Cancer, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., remains an enigma to many despite ongoing research. The disease is often fatal, and there will be an estimated 1.6 million cancer diagnoses this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society.
Self-declared hypochondriac or not, many people obsess over the potential ways they could be increasing their risk of cancer. To help ease your mind, we’ve debunked the most common cancer myths.
Myth No. 1: Artificial sweeteners and sugar increase your risk
It’s a common misconception that sugars and artificial sweeteners can increase your risk of developing cancer. Sugar itself isn’t responsible for cancer, however an excess intake of sugar can lead to obesity which may enhance your risk according to the Indian Journal of Medical Research. The sugars that are found in fruits and vegetables are crucial to help you maintain muscle during treatment and have actually been shown to help fight off cancer.
Even better, studies conducted on the safety of sugar substitutes like Sweet ‘N Low, Splenda, and Equal have found no evidence they cause cancer. All artificial sweeteners except for cyclamate have been approved by the FDA for sale in the U.S.
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Myth No. 2: Trauma increases your risk of cancer
It’s a common myth that injuries can cause cancer. Common injuries like bruising, broken bones, or other trauma-related issues have not been linked to cancer. This myth likely developed from those who have seen a health care provider for what they thought was an injury, only to uncover an existing cancer during the visit.
Next: Contrary to popular belief, cancer can’t be “caught.”
Myth No. 3: Cancer can be spread and is contagious
The disease itself isn’t contagious. You can touch, spend time with, and share food and drink with someone diagnosed with cancer (it’s actually recommended!) without catching it yourself.
This myth likely developed as a result from certain cancers being linked to human papillomavirus. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C are viruses transmitted through sexual intercourse or infected needles. Contracting Hep B/C can increase your risk of liver cancer.
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Myth No. 4: Exposure to air during surgery will cause cancer to spread
Many people believe that exposing a tumor to air during surgery will cause the cancerous cells to spread. While little is known about how this myth developed, multiple researchers and oncologists have confirmed it’s untrue. The National Cancer Institute confirmed that exposure to air won’t accelerate tumor growth or cause cancer to spread throughout the body.
According to CBS News, your doctor may realize during surgery that your cancer is more widespread than they anticipated.
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Myth No. 5: Your cell phones’ radio waves will increase your risk of cancer
Cell phones emit non-ionizing radiation from their antennas. While exposure to ionizing radiofrequency like x-rays and radon is known to increase your risk of cancer, there’s no evidence that non-ionizing radio waves like those from cell phones and microwaves will do the same.
The NCI analyzes this myth stating, “Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating to the area of the body where a cell phone or other device is held (ear, head, etc.). However, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature, and there are no other clearly established effects on the body from radiofrequency energy.”
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Myth No. 6: Deodorant and anti-perspirants can increase your risk of breast cancer
While scientist have suggested a potential connection between underarm antiperspirants and breast cancer, there is no research-backed evidence linking the use of deodorant and developing breast cancer.
The myth stems from the aluminum-based compounds found in deodorants which some research suggests can be absorbed by the skin and have estrogen-like hormonal effects. It’s been suggested that aluminum may have direct activity in breast tissue and can contribute to the development of breast cancer. However, a 2014 review concluded there was no sound evidence showing that using these antiperspirants increase your risk of breast cancer.
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Myth No. 7: Using hair dye increases your risk of cancer
According to the NCI, there’s no convincing scientific research that proves personal hair dye use increases your risk of cancer. Various studies have been conducted to analyze the potential affect permanent hair dyes have on cancer risk. A case-control study in Italy found no association between use of permanent hair dye risk of leukemia, and a review of 14 studies on female breast cancer found no link between hair dye use and increase in risk.
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Myth No. 8: A needle biopsy causes cancer cells to travel throughout the body
A needle biopsy is conducted to diagnose many types of cancer. Surgeons use different needles when removing tissue from different parts of the body in order to avoid cross-contamination, according to the NCI.
There’s no proof that metastatic cancer, or cancer that can spread throughout the body, will spread via interaction with a needle. Cancer can spread by invading nearby tissue, moving through the walls of nearby blood vessels, traveling through the blood stream, growing into tiny tumors, and invading blood vessel walls.
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Myth No. 9: Increased stress is linked to cancer development
The American Cancer Society acknowledged that while researchers have done studies in search of a link between personality, attitude, stress, and cancer, there’s no scientific evidence that someone’s stress level increases their risk of cancer. Stress affects the immune system, but so do plenty of other things. There is no proven link between psychological stress and cancer.
Next: “Mild” doesn’t make a difference.
Myth No. 10: Light or mild cigarettes are less harmful to your health
You take in just as much tar smoking a light cigarette as you do a regular one. Cigarettes are labeled as “light,” “ultralight,” or “mild” based on the filters, papers, and blends of tobacco used. Research shows that “light cigarettes are not healthier and that in many ways the products were manufactured and marketed in a way that was misleading,” according to Brian King, Ph.D., and deputy director for research translation in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.
A 2009 law passed by President Barack Obama transferred the control of tobacco product packaging to the FDA, which banned companies from using labels like “light,” “ultra-light,” and “mild.”
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Myth No. 11: Men can’t get breast cancer
By nature of the name, many people believe men can’t get breast cancer. However, it’s approximated that 2,470 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. An estimated 410 of these men will die from the potentially fatal disease.
This percentage is minuscule in comparison to the 246,660 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. The National Breast Cancer Foundation offers facts about male breast cancer, which affects less than 1% of males. While males do not develop milk-producing breasts, a man’s breast cells and tissue can still develop cancer. The mortality rate of men with breast cancer is higher than that of women because awareness is less in men than that of women, leading to late diagnoses.
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Myth No. 12: Superfoods prevent cancer
The organization for cancer research in the U.K. points out that both our bodies and cancer are complex entities, difficult to understand and analyze. It’s an oversimplification to suggest that any one food could help prevent cancer from wreaking havoc on an otherwise healthy body. However, this doesn’t mean you should discount how eating healthy can improve your overall wellbeing.
Mary Ellen, a wellness dietician at MD Anderson Cancer Center, acknowledged loading up on superfoods won’t protect you from cancer. “These foods are great additions to your diet,” Phipps says. “But a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes … is what supports good health.”
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Myth No. 13: Calcium reduces the risk of colorectal cancer
“The results of epidemiologic studies regarding the relationship between calcium intake and colorectal cancer risk have not always been consistent,” according the the NCI. A Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study found that the link between intake of calcium from milk and cancer of the colon is still inconclusive as well.
Cancer Research U.K. claims that while there’s evidence calcium could reduce your risk of bowel cancer, no one has proven this undeniably true.
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Myth No. 14: Wearing a certain type of bra increases your risk of cancer
A commonly believed myth of breast cancer is that wearing a certain type of bra will increase your risk. Breastcancer.org lists this as one of their common fears with no evidence.
According to the site, one scientific study looked at the potential link between wearing a bra and breast cancer. There was no significant difference in risk between women who wear a bra and those who don’t. However, overweight women may be at higher risk of breast cancer, and women who are overweight are more likely to have larger breasts, therefore requiring the support an underwire bra gives.
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Get the real facts about cancer
The ACS offers a comprehensive list of the 10 things you may be doing that really do put you at risk of developing various cancers. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that approximately 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. are related to obesity, physical inactivity, high levels of alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and therefore can be prevented.