Cancer Myths

Confused about rumors you’ve heard about cancer? Read on.

The risk of dying from cancer in the United States is increasing.

According to a comprehensive collaborative report by the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries published in the journal Cancer in December 2009, both the number of deaths and the number of new diagnoses of cancer declined steadily in recent years.

Only smokers get lung cancer.

Not true. While smoking does account for a majority of lung cancer deaths, 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer deaths in the United States occur in nonsmokers.

My parents and siblings have never been diagnosed with cancer, so I’m not at risk.

Actually, most (approximately 90 percent) cancer is thought to be sporadic, or occurring by chance. According to Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (www.facingourrisk.org), only about 10 to 15 percent of cancers are hereditary, depending on the type.

I’m too young to have cancer.

People of all ages can have cancer. In fact, approximately 70,000 adolescents and young adults (ages 15 to 39) in the United States learn they have cancer each year.

Only fair-skinned White people (blond hair and blue eyes) are at risk of developing skin cancer.

Although light-colored skin and eyes can make you more susceptible to skin cancer, non-Whites also develop the disease. Though skin cancer is less common among African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, these populations often present with more-advanced disease, and skin cancer is more frequently fatal for these populations (www.skincancer.org).

Some types of cancer are contagious.

Cancer is not contagious. There are some viruses or bacteria, however, that may increase the risk of developing cancer. The National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cancer/page4) provides the following list:

Using antiperspirant or deodorant can cause breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) reports, “There is no good scientific evidence to support this claim. There are no strong epidemiologic studies in the available medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use.”