Let’s debunk some myths about cancer

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM for Medical Matters this morning.

Cancer can be a scary diagnosis, but there are a number of myths out there that simply aren’t true.

One of the myths is that cancer is contagious.

Sommer said, “That is not true. Cancer is not contagious. I think some of the problems are there are certain viruses that you can get like HPV, hepatitis B, or C, and those can spread from person to person. However, sometimes people who have those viruses can end up with a form of cancer but the cancer does not spread from person to person.”

Are there measures for reducing cancer risk?

Sommer said, “Measures you could do to try to reduce your risk for cancer are avoiding tobacco, no smoking, be physically active, keep a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol. Moderation for everything, eating healthy, protect your skin from the sunlight, wear sunblock, try not to have a lot of unprotected sex and not sharing needles. If you are an IV drug user, that will all help reduce the risk of cancer.”

Does cancer love sugar?

Sommer said, “Sugar does not cause cancer to spread, or make your cancer worse. A high sugar diet, however, may contribute to weight gain and obesity and that can be associated with an increased risk of cancer. But sugar itself, by itself cannot cause a spread cancer. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables with naturally occurring sugar actually, have been shown to help maintain healthy weights and help lower your cancer risk. So it’s just moderation but sugar itself will not cause cancer or make it spread or make your cancer worse.”

If you have a family history of cancer, does that mean you will get it?

Sommer said, “Not necessarily, although you are a higher risk, and you should depending on the type of cancer and if it was a parent, a mother or a father or sibling, you do need to get screened often. However, it doesn’t just automatically mean that you are going to get it. Only five to 10% of cancers are caused by harmful mutations that are inherited from a person’s parents. Most cancers are caused by genetic changes that occur throughout your lifetime as a result of aging, exposure to environmental factors, again, tobacco smoke for lung cancer, the types of food you eat, how much we eat, whether you exercise, it’s really lifestyle. Sometimes lifestyle behaviors can cause these genetic mutation increase your risk of cancer, but just because somebody in your family has cancer, it doesn’t mean you are going to get it.”

Some people suggest that the drug companies or the government are hiding a cure for cancer and that it’s in a vault somewhere.

Sommer said, “There are so many different strains of cancer and there isn’t one single cure, unfortunately, because even when it comes to treating cancer, there’s different drugs for different types of cancers, and then genes don’t mutate the same way in each person’s body. So that’s why there are a lot of clinical trials trying to prevent and treat all types of cancer. But saying that it’s a conspiracy theory, not to get treatment because it really doesn’t work, that’s not going to help either.”

Does attitude make a difference in cancer?

Sommer said, “No, it doesn’t. There’s no scientific evidence that an attitude will increase your risk of developing or dying from cancer. I think sometimes obviously, if you have a cancer diagnosis, some people will put more positive in their approach, and that will help them stay social, keep connections and seek out treatment and do what they’re told. Other people sometimes take it a lot harder, and have a more negative attitude where they think I’m going to die. They may choose to make poor decisions because they’re sad, they’re angry, and they get discouraged and it’s easier to give up. Human nature, we all react differently to certain situations, but the attitude itself is not going to affect how you’re going to survive cancer or how the treatment is going to work.”

Do cell phones increase the risk of cancer?

Sommer said, “No. They have done a lot of studies and so far, there is no link to cell phones causing cancer. They admit a low frequency energy, and it does not seem that they damage the genes. This information is from the National Institute of Cancer. So if you go to cancer.gov, they have a lot of helpful information.”

How about power lines? Can they give us cancer?

Sommer said, “I remember growing up, people would say that, I mean, I remember adults as a child, they would say before cell phones that it’s the power lines, so-and-so got cancer down the street, and the power lines are right over their house. Again, studies so far have not proven that the electrical energy that comes from a powerline is a culprit for causing some type of cancer. Again, they say the magnetic energy emitted by the powerlines is a low frequency form of radiation and does not damage the genes.”

How about herbal products?

Sommer said, “I’ve seen this a lot where a lot of people say they will choose a more natural approach to cancer and herbal products do have, I mean, before there was medicine, like we have today, that’s what you had to use, you had to use natural herbs and so forth to fight some type of infection. However, there is no proof that taking herbs is a great alternative therapy. And actually, and I know this from speaking when it comes to oncology, there are certain herbal treatments that actually can be dangerous when you are taking things like chemo therapy, and vitamins. So it’s important that if you are taking treatment before you start any type of herbal or at herbal remedies, you need to discuss that with the oncologist.”

If no one in the family has had cancer, does that mean someone is risk free?

Sommer said, “This is hard. When you work in healthcare, you will have people that say, well, I don’t have any family history, so I’m okay. I’m not going to get cancer and I’m not going to get the screening. We do a lot of screenings, colonoscopies here and people said, well, I don’t have family history of colon cancer. So it’s okay that I waited until 67 to get my first colonoscopy, and then they have cancer. So, based on recent data, 40% of men and women will be diagnosed with a cancer at some point during their lives. Again, most cancers are caused by genetic changes that occurred throughout that particular person’s lifetime as a natural result of aging. So it doesn’t always matter. Yes, we say if you have family history, you need to be screened a little bit sooner. But that doesn’t mean if you don’t have family history, you’re free and clear of any cancer.”

Do deodorants cause cancer?

Sommer said, “I know being female and growing up this was a big thing about different types of deodorants and don’t use one with an antiperspirant. They have done studies, there’s no evidence linking the chemicals found in the antiperspirants in deodorants will change the breast tissue. So again, I know, that’s a big one, an argument that I have heard throughout the last I mean, 10 to 15 years. We always feel like breast cancer is on the rise or colon cancer and so forth. But, again, the National Institute of Cancer if you go to cancer.gov, they actually have a section about regarding antiperspirant deodorant and breast cancer.”

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