The recognition of World Cancer Day, February 4, creates an important opportunity to debunk myths that continue to exist in both developed and developing countries.
In some cultures, it is believed that a woman develops cancer as a punishment that occurs when the devil kicks her womb. Although this explanation seems naive, none of us are immune from such thought processes when we lack information. Each of us must continue to question our own understanding and beliefs associated with the risks of developing cancer. We must look at these issues through the lens provided by the truth of scientific research.
The danger of cancer mythology is that beliefs not based in fact can impair early detection and treatment.
If you’re daring enough to learn, you can help debunk the four myths about cancer. They are myths identified by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the sponsoring organization of World Cancer Day.
My two previous blogs provided facts to debunk the first two myths:
- Myth 1: Cancer is just a health issue
- Myth 2: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries
Now, let’s sharpen our focus on two more cancer myths through the lens of research findings provided by the UICC.
Myth 3: Cancer is a Death Sentence*
Many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be cured and, for many more people, cancer can now be treated effectively.
- With few exceptions, early-stage cancers are less lethal and more treatable than late-stage cancers.
- In the United States alone, there are 12 million Americans living with cancer today.
- In countries with more than a decade of experience with organized breast cancer screening programs, the reduction in mortality from breast cancer is significant. For example: Australia launched a mammography screening program in 1991, resulting in an almost 30 percent reduction in mortality from breast cancer over the past two decades.
- Globally, it is imperative that we close the gap in cancer outcomes between rich and poor countries.
- It is a common misconception that cancer solutions are too complex and expensive for developing countries.
Myth 4: Cancer is My Fate
With the right lifestyle education strategies, roughly 30 percent of cancer can be prevented.
- Global, regional and national policies and programs that promote healthy lifestyles can substantially reduce cancers that are caused by risk factors such as alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Improving diet, increasing physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight could prevent around a third of the most common cancers.
- Based on current trends, tobacco use is predicted to kill one billion people in the 21st century. Tobacco use is linked to 71 percent of all lung cancer deaths, and accounts for at least 22 percent of all cancer deaths. Addressing tobacco use worldwide is critical.
- In many developing countries, misconceptions about diagnosis and treatment, as well as the stigma associated with cancer, can lead individuals to seek alternative care in place of standard treatment, or to avoid care altogether. Understanding and responding to cultural beliefs and practices is essential.
- Patients in the developed world whose cancers have progressed to an incurable stage suffer and die unnecessarily due to lack of early diagnosis and appropriate treatment and care. We must increase awareness of cancer among the general population and awareness of resources for education and screening. And we must increase access to affordable, effective and quality cancer services.