Health Beat - Fall 2016 - 6

A lot of what we hear about cancer simply isn't
true, which can lead to confusion and anxiety


rom underwire bras causing
breast cancer (not true) to the
HPV vaccine leading to cervical
cancer (not true), myths
sometimes take off faster than fresh
air can spread a tumor (also untrue).
"People should be careful where they
get their information from," says
Melanie Leepers, cancer program
manager at the Tammy Walker Cancer
Center. "There's a lot of bad information out there-especially online."
Here are five common cancer myths:

Breast cancer is the No. 1
cancer killer of women.
Truth: Breast cancer is the No. 2 cancer
killer of women, behind lung cancer. In
2015, 40,290 women were expected to
die from breast cancer and 71,660 from
lung cancer.
"Breast cancer has gotten more
press, and there are a lot more survivors
out there talking about survivorship.
As a result, women think breast cancer
is the No. 1 cancer killer," says Otis
Brawley, MD, chief medical officer for
the American Cancer Society.

Only smokers get lung cancer.
Truth: One in five lung cancer patients


is a lifelong nonsmoker, Brawley says. "In
fact, the percentage of nonsmokers getting lung cancer is actually increasing,"
he says. Nonsmokers can get lung
cancer from radon gas, secondhand
smoke or a genetic cause.
That's why it's important not to
assume anything about a cancer
patient's lifestyle or behaviors.

Getting a "base tan" at a
tanning salon is a good way
to prevent sunburn before
that beach vacation.
Truth: Tanning injures the skin and
offers very little protection against
sunburn. And it's not just tanning
booths: Brawley also cautions against
sun exposure. "The thing people need
to focus on-even when they go to
the Caribbean in the fall and winter
months-is sun avoidance and wearing
long sleeves and sunscreen," he says.

All cancerous tumors are
bad and should be removed
as soon as possible.
Truth: In our new era of "precision medicine," technology is allowing physicians
to better identify cancers that need to be
watched versus cancers that need to be

treated. Brawley estimates that
as many as one in five cancers
does not need to be treated.
"We spent 200 years saying
all cancers were bad. Now with
MRI, we can find the small lesion
in a woman's breast that is not
genetically programmed to grow
and kill-and leave it alone,"
he says. This "watch and see"
approach can be used with certain prostate, thyroid, lymphatic
and brain cancers, among others.

If you operate on colon
cancer, it will spread.
Truth: If you don't operate on colon
cancer, it can lethally spread. "When
surgeons do a colon cancer operation,
they actually clamp each end of the
bowel that they are taking out with
the idea that the tumor won't spread
into the abdomen," Brawley says.
That said, sometimes a colon cancer is thought to be localized, but once
inside, surgeons discover it has spread
beyond the colon, Brawley says. This
reality-coupled with the very precautions taken by surgeons to prevent
the spread of cancer-has allowed
this myth to persist for years. 1

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