With a surge of people searching for the biggest causes of cancer in 2021, it’s important to sort fact from fiction.
“Myths, such as whether cancer is contagious, spread misinformation and can prevent people from speaking to healthcare professionals,” Dr Tim Woodman, a Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance, says.
“Common misconceptions can also contribute to stigmas and taboos.
“It’s crucial to only use reputable sources for cancer support – for example, NHS, Cancer Research and Bupa’s free-to-access Health Hub, which has lots of advice on cancer and symptoms to look out for.
“I would encourage anyone who is worried about their health or experiences a change that is unexplained or persistent to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
“For example, if you notice breast lumps and changes to your breasts, you’re having problems passing urine or you notice changes to an existing mole, speak to a healthcare professional.”
Myth 1: Cancer is contagious
You cannot catch cancer from someone else.
If you know someone who has it, there’s no need to avoid them.
It’s OK for you to look after them through their diagnosis. Often, a loved one who has developed the condition needs your support more than ever.
Myth 2: Burnt foods cause it
A quick search on Google shows a variety of articles linking burnt food to cancer.
When you cook foods at a high temperature, acrylamide (a chemical that’s found in starchy foods like bread and potatoes) forms naturally.
However, there’s not enough evidence to link burnt food to an increased risk of cancer.
Some things you eat, including processed food and red meats, can increase your risk, but this doesn’t mean that you will get it.
Myth 3: Hair dye can lead to cancer
Based on the available research, personal use of hair dyes to change your hair colour won’t cause cancer. Hair dye is unlikely to be a significant risk factor, if it is one at all.
More research is needed. However there is a small amount of evidence that daily contact with hair dye may increase your risk of developing bladder cancer. However, family history, diet, smoking, and exercise have far more to do with your risk.
Additionally, smoking remains the biggest risk of developing bladder cancer. In fact, you’re three times more likely to develop it if you smoke.
Myth 4: Deodorant can cause it
You may worry that certain chemicals found in personal care products, like deodorant, cause cancer. The myth that deodorant causes breast cancer has been circulated for many years.
There are strict safety regulations and laws that control which ingredients can be used in makeup and toiletries. Rest-assured that antiperspirants, body sprays and deodorants do not cause cancer.
Your chances of developing breast cancer increases with age. Make sure you’re regularly checking your breasts and take note of any changes.
Being overweight, drinking more than the recommended weekly amount, and having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk too.
Myth 5: Injuries can lead to it
Another common myth is that an injury can cause cancer. Stories about potential causes – like this one – are often in the media. It isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence.
Injuries may sometimes lead to someone finding a cancer near to the injured area that was already there before the injury, but the injury won’t be the leading cause.
Sometimes an injury can cause a lump, but again, this won’t lead to a cancer diagnosis.
Four simple ways to lower your risk, according to Bupa’s Medical Director:
Lead a healthy lifestyle
Studies have shown that if you do 30 minutes of moderate activity that raises your heart rate, every day, you can significantly reduce the risk of several major cancers (including breast, bowel, and womb).
Exercise is also helpful if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer both during and after treatment.
A balanced diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, and healthy sources of protein (white meats, fishes, and pulses) will help you maintain a healthy weight, and ultimately lower your risk.
Over the long term, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of serious illnesses, such as mouth, throat, and breast cancer.
Drinking guidelines can be hard to follow but try to drink in moderation and have some alcohol-free days a week.
Why not try the latest trend of ‘mindful drinking’? Being aware of why you’re drinking and how much alcohol you’re having can often lead to a healthier relationship with alcohol and less consumption.
Tobacco smoke contains lots of chemicals and toxic gases. These are known to harm to your health, and increase your risk of lung cancer.
Stopping smoking can be more effective if you choose your quit method and then establish a social support network to help you.
If you need help quitting, try options like nicotine replacement or support groups to help with the psychological addiction.
Attend your screenings
Health checks and screenings and across all ages are there to detect any early signs of abnormalities and cancer.
It’s important to attend these and know how to identify changes in your own body.
Attending all appointments, even if you’re feeling well, is vital. An abnormality could be found before you start showing any symptoms.
Early detection is key to effectively treating cancers.