Seven Cancer Lies You Should Not Believe
Health hoaxes have been around forever, but they seem much more prevalent now that we can get information instantly through email and social media. Thousands of false messages are sent daily by well-meaning people that want to help friends and family live a healthful life. But remember, not everything you read on the internet is true. Johns Hopkins University and other experts dispel some of the most common cancer hoaxes being spread today.
A 2005 American Cancer Society survey found that many Americans believe cancer myths. For example, half of American adults mistakenly believe that surgery can spread cancer and more than one if four believes that a cure for cancer already exists but is being held back by a profit-driven industry.
"These results indicate that public and patient education interventions are most urgently needed in cancer centers, medical practices, and other community organizations that serve large numbers of patients,” write the authors in the study that appeared in the journal CANCER.
Johns Hopkins in particular has been cited as the source of many of these hoaxes. The originator probably thought that crediting an esteemed University and medical program would give the message more credence. Again, this is a common practice. For example, many years ago a typed diet called the “Mayo Clinic” diet circulated among Americans although it was never written by or approved by a Mayo Clinic expert. (Today, there is actually an approved Mayo Clinic diet very different from the one written so many years ago.)
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health warns internet users that if they see information labeled as “Cancer Update from John Hopkins” (note the misspelling of the name), that the tip that follows is likely bogus.
Hoax #1: Everyone Has Cancer Cells
Cancer is a genetic disease resulting from a variety of mutations and alterations in our cells. These can either be inherited from our parents or acquired over time due to environmental exposures and behaviors such as smoking and poor diet. Among the trillions of cells in the human body, inevitably some will be abnormal or atypical – but that does not mean they are cancerous, says Luis Diaz, a clinician with the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics.
Unfortunately, there is no single or standard test for cancer. Although some screening tests are recommended for certain cancers, such as mammography for breast cancer or colonoscopy for colon cancer, for many cancers, there is no test performed until the tumor is large enough to cause symptoms. At that point, a doctor may recommend an x-ray, a biopsy, or other procedure which can detect cancer cells – hopefully at a point early enough in the disease so that it is most likely to be cured.
While evasive cancer cells are a challenge and the focus of ongoing research, it does not mean, as the email contends, that all patients, even those treated successfully for cancer, have cancers-in-waiting—undetectable but still there. People are treated and completely cured of cancer every day.
Hoax #2: A Strong Immune System Destroys Cancer
When it comes to cancer and the immune system, it is not a matter of a “strong” or “weak” immune system, but rather an issue of recognition. Elizabeth Jaffee, co-director of cancer immunology explains.
"The immune system simply does not recognize cancer. In its complexity, the cancer cell has learned to disguise itself to the immune system as a normal, healthy cell. Cells infected with viruses or bacteria send out danger signals setting the immune system in action. But cancer cells do not."
That being said, there is a field known as Cancer Immunotherapy that is working to harness the power of the immune system to ultimately fight cancer. For example, CD8+ Killer T Cells are “ruthless killers of the immune system which can kill thousands of harmful cells, including cancer cells,” per an infographic by the Cancer Research Institute. Medical therapies which utilize this power may ultimately be developed as cures for cancer and other diseases.