Six Cancer Misconceptions

1. Cancer rates are rising
While this is partially true, it is not due to any inherent increase in cancer occurances or the level of carcinogens, but rather due to our ever-extending lifespans. This is because time is the biggest factor in occurrence of cancer. It is also partially due to our greatly improved detection technologies and check-up programs which are seeing more cases detected where they would have otherwise gone unnoticed. A positive side to this is that survival rates have been greatly increasing with improved technologies and treatments.

2. Sharks don’t get cancer
This idea was popularised in 1992 by Dr William Lane and has managed to burn its way into popular opinion and is leading to the slaughter of over 200,000 sharks every month to create a pill that doesn’t work. In fact, practically every complex multicellular organism gets cancer, and there is no good reason or scientific evidence to show that sharks would be exempt from this.

3. Cancer in a modern disease
Records have been found dating back to between 1500 and 3000BC in Egypt detailing breast cancer and around 400BC Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have distinguished between benign and malignant tumors, although the Greeks did not use invasive surgery or autopsy and thus could only observe tumors from the outside. It is likely that cancer has existed since the dawn of man and long before that.

4. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are poisons
This again is true of a sort as both chemotherapy and radiotherapy damage DNA in order to kill cells, but the treatment has been developed to preferentially kill tumor cells while sparing as many non-tumor cells as possible. Chemotherapy has the side effect of killing tumor cells and also other rapidly replicating cells such as hair follicles and bone marrow leading to such side effects as hair loss. Any alternative treatments which claim no side-effects are not likely to be killing any cancer cells.

5. There is a cure, but big pharma is suppressing it
Cancer is a highly complex mutation and and treating it is just as complex. Cancer is caused by unregulated division of any cell type and as such some tumors respond well to radiotherapy, others to chemotherapy and others to surgery. Tumors can grow at different rates and present many symptoms while others can present little symptoms and to add to this, each cancer is unique having arisen from a unique set of mutations. Due to all these factors it is highly unlikely that big pharma has a cure and if it did, it is highly unlikely that it would stay secret for long because we know how bad people are at keeping secrets.

6. Cancer can be cured by x
There are a wide range of things that people will try to sell you claiming that they will cure cancer; these products can range from apricot seeds to mistletoe and baking soda. All of these and many many more have been put forth as cures with little to no clinical evidence or science on their side. To add to the list of alternative cures are magnets, however thorough studies have shown that static magnetic fields are biologically inert, meaning they do not interact at a cellular or molecular.
Adding to this are the claims of homeopathy, which to be honest are no more effective than the placebo effect and would have to defy everything we know to be true about physics and chemistry to have any effect. Some outfits offering such products and services have faced court cases against them for fraud by former patients, so consumer be-ware.

I think it is mostly just very important for us to remember that even though cancer is scary, the range and effectiveness of treatments has never been better and continues to grow. It is also important to remember to do thorough research and consult with a professional before engaging in any treatments as there may be little to no effect, or worse, adverse effects on yourself (and potentially on your wallet).

For those who are struggling with cancer or something similar, make sure to research widely and to talk to people. Cancer Research UK has some very useful resources for patients and it is always good to keep in mind some wise words from Carl Sagan:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."