Top 10 myths about cancer, busted

In the year 2020, 94.1 per 100,000 men and 103.6 per 100,000 females are likely to be diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer is a condition that is often believed to be the end-of-the-line. But it is myths like this and many others that make people shy away from early treatment.

Dr Ashay Karpe, Medical oncologist and,haematologist says, “Some of the most common myths related to cancer and its treatment are that chemotherapy is more detrimental, it is best avoided, chemotherapy can lead to the spread of cancer and so on. Another widespread myth I get to hear is that alternative medicine is more effective than chemotherapy or other allopathic cancer treatment, with no side effects. But it is avoided because chemotherapy is a pharma propaganda to earn money. Also, people often choose the least invasive therapies that are not very effective. “

So, here are most common myths about cancer, busted

Myth 1: Cancer is fatal ( a death sentence)

In India, the Cancer Survival Rate for 1 and 5 years after cancer treatment is lower than those in Europe or North America. But the survival rate of patients with cancer is higher if detected early, making early diagnosis essential[5]. 

Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that cancer is not a death sentence. Contrary to popular belief, several cancers can now be managed so that a person can live with the disease.

Although, how long a person with cancer survives, depends on several factors including, whether the cancer is fast or slow-growing, how much it has spread in the body if there are effective treatment modalities available to treat cancer and the person’s overall health.

Myth 2: All lumps are malignant (cancerous)

As per the National Breast Cancer Foundations, not all lumps found in the breast turn out to be cancer. If a person does notice a lump in their breast, it should be checked-out by a doctor. Although, if one sees other associated symptoms of breast cancer, he/she should consult a doctor for further investigation.

In the case of lumps in other parts of the body, that could very well be benign or a cyst. Therefore it is best assessed by a experienced physician.

Myth 3: I have no family history of cancer so I won’t get it

A change in cellular DNA causes cancer. While, some cancers can be passed down from generation to generation – known as familial cancer– not having a family history does not mean you cannot contract the disease. There are a number of causes of cancer including your exposure to radiation, smoking, excessive drinking, obesity, and a poor diet.

Myth 4: Cancer is contagious

 Cancer is not contagious, and you can interact with a person who has cancer. You can spend time with them, share utensils and touch them. In fact, spending time with someone who has cancer can be a source of invaluable support that could go a long way in helping them recover.

While cancer itself is not contagious, there are viruses that can spread via contact and lead to cancer. They are:

Human papillomavirus (HPV) :  This is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer and other forms of cancer.

Hepatitis B or C: These are viruses are also sexually transmitted or by the use of infected needles and can cause liver cancer.

Myth 5: Eating sugar will make my cancer worse

More research has to be done on the relationship between cancer and the consumption of sugar. All cells, including cancer cells use blood glucose (sugar in your blood) for energy, but there is no evidence to show that cancer cells either grow faster if given more sugar or grow slower when deprived of sugar.

Although, there is some evidence that consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to certain cancers like oesophageal cancer. Moreover, consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes – both factors that can lead to cancer.

Dr Ashay says, “This is a common myth I come across in my practice, and while there is no evidence to support this myth,I do believe that people should eat a balanced diet.”

Myth 6: My attitude—positive or negative—determine my risk of/ or likely recovery from cancer

Till date, there has been no convincing scientific evidence linking one’s attitude to the risk of developing cancer or dying from it.

A person with cancer may often feel sad, angry, and discouraged some times and upbeat the next, while this is completely normal, having a positive attitude could help one cope with the trials of cancer and its associated treatment.

Dr Ashay adds, “A positive attitude definitely helps in all types of cancer therapies, especially chemotherapy, because when a person is happy, endorphins are released in the brain and help improve one’s immunity and ability to heal. Which definitely has an impact.”

Myth 7: Cancer surgery or a tumour biopsy can cause cancer to spread in the body

The likelihood of surgery or biopsy causing the spread of cancer is very low. This is because during such procedures doctors take various precautions to prevent the transfer of cancerous cells. For instance, if a surgeon were planning to remove tissue from various parts of the body, they use different instruments for each part.

Myth 8: You won’t need surgery if the tumour is solid

In almost all cases of tumors, surgery is a component of effective cancer treatment. While in some cases your doctor may choose to use other treatment modalities to reduce the size of the tumour before trying to excise it surgically, surgery is one of the most common methods used to treat cancers that present with solid tumours.

Myth 9: Chemotherapy always has bad side effects

While this was true in the past, today there are a number of advances in chemotherapy that drastically reduce the side effects one experiences.

Myth 10: Cancer will always come back

If detected in the early stages, stage I and II, most cancers can be successfully treated with a very low rate of recurrence. In cancers that are in the later stages, there are several treatment modalities that can help lower the chances of recurrence.

Although, the rate of recurrence also depends on a number of factors, like the type of cancer —  Glioblastomas and Ovarian cancer – where the rate of recurrence is relatively high.

You may also like to read:

Can diabetes make you more prone to cancer?
Prostate cancer: 11 common questions answered
Knowing these 11 lung cancer symptoms can save your life
5 things you should know about obesity and breast cancer
Yes, cancer can be prevented; here are 6 things that can help


1.     WHO; NCD Country Profile Geneva: World Health organization; 2011.doi: [Google Scholar]

2.     Cancer Statistics, 2020: Report From National Cancer Registry Programme, India

Prashant Mathur, Krishnan Sathishkumar, Meesha Chaturvedi, Priyanka Das, Kondalli Lakshminarayana Sudarshan, Stephen Santhappan, Vinodh Nallasamy, Anish John, Sandeep Narasimhan, Francis Selvaraj Roselind, and on behalf of ICMR-NCDIR-NCRP Investigator Group

3. JCO Global Oncology 2020 :6, 1063-1075


5. Cancer survival data emphasise importance of early diagnosis. BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 25 January 2019) BMJ 2019;364:l408



8. Rajpal S, Kumar A, Joe W. Economic burden of cancer in India: Evidence from cross-sectional nationally representative household survey, 2014. PLoS One. 2018;13(2):e0193320. Published 2018 Feb 26. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193320

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