The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Debunking 7 Common Cancer Myths
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 8:04am
Medical Director, Professor of Oncology

Misconceptions about cancer are plentiful. It’s oftentimes hard to differentiate the facts from fiction. That’s why it’s important to clear up any confusion with what you may have heard or read about cancer. As we mark World Cancer Day at Roswell Park, we wanted to help clear the air on some common cancer myths.

Myth #1: Cancer is contagious.

No type of cancer is contagious. A healthy person cannot catch the disease by breathing the same air or coming into contact with a person who has cancer. However, there are some cancers caused by contagious viruses. Human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis C increases the risk of developing certain cancers such as cervical, anal and liver cancer.

Myth #2: Cancer causes hair loss.

Hair loss, also known as alopecia, occurs as a result of specific drugs used during the treatment of cancer, not cancer itself. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause the loss of hair, but not everyone undergoing these treatments experiences hair loss. Learn more about hair loss caused by chemotherapy.

Myth #3: I can’t reduce my cancer risk.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, abstaining from tobacco products, and using sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage are some measures you can take to significantly lower your cancer risk.

Myth #4: Everyone with cancer has to be treated.

It is up to the patient to decide if he or she wants to be treated for cancer. However, the patient should make the decision after talking to their doctor first and learning about the different types of treatment options available to them. There are a few cases in which a person with cancer may choose to forgo treatment. For example, someone who has a slow-growing cancer might want to wait and monitor the cancer, which is what doctors call active surveillance. In other circumstances where a person is experiencing advanced cancer, spiritual, emotional and social aspects may come into play when making treatment decisions.

Myth #5: If I have the same cancer as someone else, I’ll get the same treatment.

Cancer treatment is not a “one size fits all” approach. Depending on your cancer, where it is and how it’s affecting your body and health, your doctor will discuss with you the treatment plan that is best for you. Not every test, treatment or procedure is right for everyone.

Myth #6: Because I have cancer, I can’t participate in my normal day-to-day activities.

The majority of people with a cancer diagnosis are able to continue with some or all of their normal day-to-day activities. This is a result of being treated as outpatients with regular appointments at a hospital or clinic. Despite undergoing cancer treatments, many patients are able to work normal workdays, care for their kids and still go grocery shopping. Partaking in “regular” activities can help those living with cancer cope and feel more in control of their diagnosis.

Myth #7: Cancer is one disease.

Cancer is a broad term that defines a large group of diseases in which abnormal cells multiply out of control with the potential to invade other parts of the body. There are more than 100 types of cancer. The name of each cancer is typically based on the area of the body—the organ or type of cell—at which this rapid cell division is happening. For instance, lung cancer is within the lungs, prostate cancer within the prostate, and so on. However, even within these “cancer sites” there are numerous sub-types and variations, many of which are not even classified or yet understood. It is this diversity and variation that poses one of the greatest challenges to our goal of understanding, preventing and curing cancer.