On October 12, 2019.
By Sola Ogundipe
Karen E. Knudsen, Ph.D., enterprise director at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health, oversees cancer care and cancer research at all SKCC sites in the Greater Philadelphia region. She debunks six of the commonest cancer myths. Excerpts:
*No one in my family has ever had cancer, so I’m not at risk
The majority of cancer cases are not hereditary. Inherited genetic mutations cause only 5-10 percent of all cancers, which is why no one should ignore symptoms or skip screenings.
If you do have a family history of cancer, get checked for your risk of certain cancers such as breast, ovarian, prostate and colorectal. Those with a family history may need to get screened at an earlier age or consider having additional screening tests than those who do not carry a genetic mutation. A family history of cancer does not guarantee a cancer diagnosis.
*All cancers are preventable
We know that certain behaviours—quitting smoking, using sunscreen, eating healthy and exercising —can significantly reduce your risk for certain cancers. Adopting these behaviours is highly encouraged! While risk is reduced, even a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee you’ll never get cancer. Cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, health status and family history.
*Natural remedies can cure cancer
The promise of a cure from an herbal supplement or household product like apple cider vinegar can be very enticing; they usually promise a cure, often without side effects. However, these are not substitutes for traditional cancer treatments, which are backed by years of science-based evidence.
*Cancer only affects older people
While it is true that your risk of cancer increases as you get older, age does not mean you are safe from a cancer diagnosis. In fact, researchers have seen a rise in some cancers among people under 50, such as colorectal cancer and melanoma.
You should never ignore anything that you find abnormal, such as rectal bleeding, an abnormal mole, or a lump in your breast. By assuming you are too young to have cancer, you might not get diagnosed until it is at a much later stage and much harder to treat.
*Cancer is a death sentence
Years ago, a person diagnosed with cancer faced a very poor prognosis. This is no longer the case. While even one cancer-related death is one too many, we have very good reason to be positive.
This progress is a result of incredible discoveries made by scientists and cancer researchers from around the world. Their findings have been translated into clinical practice that has directly benefited patients. We have developed better ways to screen for cancer so that it is detected early, when it is more likely to be treatable. We now have a vaccine for HPV available that can actually prevent cervical cancer and reduce the risk of other cancers, such as head and neck cancer. There are new ways to treat cancer, some of which were not available even 10 years ago, like immunotherapy.
*Cancer needs to be treated aggressively and immediately
Many people believe that you need the most aggressive treatment possible against cancer, but this is not always the case. For example, while radical mastectomies were once the standard treatment for breast cancer, now we rarely perform a radical mastectomy because we have found that less extensive mastectomies are just as effective and in some cases, the patient is able to opt for breast-conserving surgery.
Sometimes the best course of action for certain cancer types or stages is to monitor the cancer. For many prostate cancers, the best course of action can be either “active surveillance” or “watchful waiting” because the cancer is so slow growing that the risks and side effects of treatment outweigh the benefits.