Saturday, May 27, 2006

Believing Cancer Myths?

Believing Cancer Myths?
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Q: I have been told that the smell of burnt coffee means you have cancer. I've also heard other cancer myths. Can you debunk some common ones? -- Georgie J.

A: I've never heard the one about burnt coffee and haven't been able to track it down. But there are plenty of other cancer myths in circulation:

Cancer spreads when exposed to air during surgery: This is false but widely believed. A survey by researchers at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center among patients with lung cancer and with other types of pulmonary disease in five hospitals across the United States showed that 45 percent had heard this myth and 37 percent believed it to be true. Results of the study were published in the October 7, 2003 Annals of Medicine.

Drug companies are withholding the cure for cancer because they would lose the money that they get from treating patients with today's drugs: This conspiracy theory is nonsense. First of all, cancer is not one disease but many.

It is unlikely that any single "cure" would work for all of them. Besides, there has been impressive progress. The American Cancer Society notes that only a few decades ago, fewer than one in 10 children with leukemia survived 10 years after diagnosis.

Today's treatment has raised the cure rate to almost 80%. Similar advances have been made in curing Hodgkin's lymphoma, bone and kidney cancers in children, and testicular cancer. Just ask Lance Armstrong.

Injuries can lead to cancer: This old wives tale has been around for more than a century. It was disproved a long time ago. The only known instances where cancer can stem from injuries are related to chemical burns. Swallowing caustic liquids is a risk factor for cancer of the esophagus, and skin cancer sometimes develops in scars caused by chemical or thermal burns.

Antiperspirants cause breast cancer: This persistent Internet hoax warns that antiperspirants or deodorants contain substances that can be absorbed through the skin or enter the body through nicks caused by shaving.

There's no evidence to support this idea, and, in fact a study published in the Oct. 16, 2002 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no increased breast cancer risk among women who reported using underarm deodorants or antiperspirants, those who used these products after shaving with a blade razor and those who used the products within one hour after shaving with a blade razor. Other studies have reported similar results.
Andrew Weil, MD

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