Cancer Myths

Using saccharin, drinking fluoridated water and using deodorant have all been cited as possible cancer causes. These myths about cancer can be harmful or misleading. Sometimes reports or articles link certain products and other activities to cancer when, in fact, there is no evidence-based research to support the claims.

Consumers need accurate information to make informed choices about the way they live and play and what they eat and drink. False information can steer them away from healthy lifestyle choices. In addition, the Internet can confuse matters more as anyone can post their theories without explanation or evidence. Some common cancer myths include:

Commercial Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer
In 1969 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the artificial sweetener cyclamate because research findings suggested it might be linked to bladder cancer. It is still banned although subsequent studies have failed to demonstrate that it causes cancer. Research also suggests there is no link between cancer and popular artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame. The FDA regulates all sweeteners and will continue to study the evidence and regulate new products as they enter the market.

Fluoridated Water and Cancer
More than half of Americans drink water that contains fluoride. A connection between fluoride in drinking water and cancer has been debated and studied for many years. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention summarized extensive research findings and concluded that studies to date have produced "no credible evidence" of an association between fluoridated drinking water and an increased risk for cancer.

Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer
Internet postings and other sources have suggested that people who use deodorants or antiperspirants could be at higher risk for breast cancer. These stories have claimed that the products contain harmful substances that can be absorbed through the skin via nicks and cuts from shaving. However, neither the National Cancer Institute nor the FDA have found any link between the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.

Coral Calcium Treating Cancer
Coral Calcium Supreme is a dietary supplement made of marine coral. Marketers have made false claims that it can treat or cure cancer as well as other chronic conditions. The Federal Trade Commission has taken legal action against these individuals and urges consumers to be wary of these claims as they are not supported by existing scientific evidence. In addition, consumers should discuss the use of any dietary supplements with their health care providers.

Conversely, some information about cancer causing agents is true.

Grilled Meats and Cancer
It is true that eating grilled or pan-fried meats can increase a person's risk of cancer. When meat is grilled, chemicals called heterocyclicamines, which can be harmful, are created. These chemicals are found in higher quantities when meat is well-done or burned. Experts recommend limiting the amount of grilled meat in your diet, and avoiding the burnt parts altogether. They also recommend marinating and precooking meats in a microwave before cooking by other methods. Keep in mind that many grilled foods are safe and good for you including grilled vegetables and fruits.

And, some information about cancer causing agents remains unproven. More research is needed in certain areas.

Magnetic Field Exposure and Cancer
Electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) are emitted from devices that produce, transmit or use electric power. Some sources of EMFs are power lines, transmitters, and household electronics like televisions, microwave ovens and electric blankets. Over the past 15 years, there have been several studies evaluating children's and adults' residential exposures to electric and magnetic fields in relation to risks of brain cancer, leukemias and lymphomas and breast cancer. Most findings have been inconclusive. To limit exposures to EMFs, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recommends increasing the space between devices that emit EMFs and yourself and discouraging children from playing near power lines.

Everyone is at risk for being misled by false information. It is very important to check new information with a credible source before acting on it.

 Don't assume that everything you read is always true. As with any health news or tips, you should do research to determine if the information is evidence-based.
 Don't rely on claims that a product has been studied--look up study results yourself or ask your health care provider. When you are a well-informed health care consumer, it is easier to determine which cancer causes are myths and which are facts.

Some examples of how false cancer myths can affect consumers and their lifestyles:

Cigar Smoking and Cancer--Jake smokes cigars socially. He started smoking them in college with his friends at local cigar bars. Now in his late 30's, he smokes five or six cigars a week. He does not think that smoking cigars will harm him--he's always known about the dangers of smoking cigarettes--but has never read anything about cigars causing cancer. When Jake goes for a regular checkup his doctor finds a cancerous tumor in his mouth and his doctor explains that cigars have a high association with oral cancer.

Family History and Breast Cancer--Mary heard that you could only inherit breast cancer from your mom's side of the family. Since no one on her mom's side had breast cancer, she feels pretty good about her odds of getting the disease. Yet, when her doctor questions her during a visit, Mary tells him that her aunt, on her dad's side, had breast cancer and died from it. Mary's doctor tells her that genes related to breast cancer can also be inherited from her father's side of the family and she needs to be vigilant about her check-ups. Her doctor also tells her that she might benefit from talking with a genetics professional about possible increased risk for breast cancer inherited from her father's side of the family.

Getting/Treating Cancer While Pregnant--Sherry is in her first trimester of pregnancy when she is diagnosed with cancer. She thinks she should postpone treatment because it will hurt her unborn child. She spends many fitful nights trying to figure out what to do. During her next doctor's visit, he assures her that he can safely treat her cancer during her pregnancy.

Taking Laetrile to Treat Cancer--Sonia's practitioner prescribes laetrile, a compound used as an anticancer treatment worldwide (but that is not approved by the FDA). Sonia believes that laetrile can shrink her cancerous tumor. While taking it, Sonia feels nauseous and dizzy and has frequent headaches. Yet, after several months of taking it, her tumor does not shrink; in fact her cancer has spread. Alarmed, she stops taking it and begins a more scientifically accepted treatment.

Posted Date:
Thursday, February 26, 2004

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