Cancer Myths, Misconceptions and Facts

Breast Cancer:

Misconception #1: When a woman either has a spontaneous abortion late in her pregnancy or a stillbirth, she can develop breast cancer, because the milk production meant for the child can spoil and cause cancer in the breast.

The Facts: More breast milk is made whenever milk is removed from the breast. The more the baby feeds, the more the milk the mother will make. In the absence of demand from the baby, the mother’s milk supply eventually dries up. Moreover, human breast milk is always fresh and cannot spoil in the breast.

Misconception #2: If you wear black brassieres often, you are more likely to get breast cancer because the black-coloured underwear will radiate more heat than other lightly-coloured underwear.

The Facts: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that wearing brassieres -black or not – can lead to the development of breast cancer. The study that investigated the link between wearing a brassiere and breast cancer, showed no real difference in risk between women who wore a brassiere and women who didn’t wear a brassiere.

Misconception #3: Only women can get breast cancer.

The Facts: Although breast cancer is most common in women, it also occurs in men too. Men also have small breast tissue and can develop cancer but unlike women they tend to delay going to the doctor until they have severe symptoms.

Misconception #4: When someone punches you in the breast, you can develop breast cancer in the injured breast.

The Facts: An injury to the breast/chest area will not cause breast cancer, however, depending on the severity of the injury, swelling and discoloration may occur, and in some cases scar tissue in the breast is formed, when the body naturally repairs the damaged fatty breast tissue.

Misconception #5: Women that store their money and cell phones in their brassieres, can develop breast cancer later on.

The Facts: There is not enough information or data available to establish a relationship between putting one’s phone in contact with the breasts for long periods and developing breast cancer.

Misconception #6: Men sucking and fondling women’s breasts helps prevent breast cancer.

The Facts: There is no scientific evidence to indicate that sucking, squeezing or fondling a woman’s breasts could prevent breast lumps or breast cancer. However, in some cases, men are able to help detect lumps in their partner’s breasts at an early stage through regular sucking and fondling of the breasts.  

Misconception #7: When women place ants on the breasts to “cause growth,” they can develop breast cancer later on.

The Facts: This is simply not true. Many factors can increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer, such as aging, being overweight, having a family history of the disease, among others, but ant-bites are not one of them. Also, there is no evidence that suggests that placing ants on the breast accelerates breast growth in females; we know that the rate of breast growth has more to do with age, genetics and weight than any other thing.

Misconception #8: Using antiperspirant deodorants can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

The Facts: There is no evidence to suggest that using anti-perspirant deodorants can increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Lung Cancer:

Misconception #1: Only smoking can cause lung cancer.

The Facts: Tobacco smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer; it is responsible for about 80% of lung cancer deaths. However, lung cancer can also occur in non-smokers when they are exposed to radon, second-hand smoke, air pollution, asbestos, diesel exhaust fumes and other air pollutants and when they have certain DNA mutations that predispose them to lung cancer. Research shows that either active or passive smoking increases ones risk of having any kind of cancer generally.

Misconception #2: If you smoke and then follow it up with alcohol, it flushes out the harmful effects of tobacco thus reducing your risk of lung cancer.

The Facts: Alcohol cannot flush out the effects of tobacco on the lungs. In fact, this combination – consuming alcohol on a daily basis and smoking – can further increase the risk of cancers in the aero-digestive tract- the lips, mouth, larynx, pharynx, throat, oesophagus and colon.

Prostate Cancer:

Misconception #1: When a man is not sexually active in his younger years, when they turn 40, they develop prostate cancer because their prostate gland shrinks.

The Facts: This is not true. Researchers speculate that men who have sex more often “may be more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, which may infect the prostate, cause inflammation and other damage, and increase the risk of prostate cancer.” However, based on two large well-conducted studies, men who reported 21 or more ejaculations per month had one-fourth the risk of prostate cancer compared with men reporting fewer ejaculations per month at all ages. It is important to note though that similar studies did not reach the same conclusions.

Skin Cancer:

Misconception #1: Dark-skinned (black) people cannot develop skin cancer.

The Facts: Although black people or people of colour are less susceptible to UV damage due to greater amounts of melanin (a protective pigment that gives our skin, hair and eyes colour) that dark skin produces, they can still develop skin cancer. Dangerous skin cancers such as the fast moving and highly virulent acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) and a fast-spreading form of squamous cell carcinoma are more common among darker-skinned people. Although skin cancer is much more common among lighter-skinned people, it tends to be deadlier among people of colour.

Cervical Cancer:

Misconception #1: When a lady has multiple sexual partners, she will most likely develop cervical cancer later on in life.

The Facts: It is indeed true that the sexually transmitted virus, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for 99% of cervical cancer cases in women and having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of contracting HPV due to greater exposure to the virus. However, a woman can protect herself from the virus by taking the HPV vaccine (between the ages of 9 to 26 years) and also through the practice of safe sex; using condoms and other protective equipment during oral sex. Also, from the age of 21, women are advised to do a cervical cytology test (the liquid-based cytology test is most accurate) every 3 years, to detect any pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.

Some more general misconceptions about cancer include:

Misconception #1: Cancer only affects older people.

The Facts: The risk of developing cancer does increase with age due to age-related DNA changes that make normal cells more susceptible to turning into cancer cells. Thus, cancer is more common in people over the age of 50 years. However, for every 100 people diagnosed with cancer, 10 people will fall between the ages of 25 and 49 and 1 person will be under the age of 24, so anybody can develop cancer. At whatever age, living more healthily can help stack the odds against cancer.

Misconception #2: Cancer is caused by bad diets and eating well guarantees a cancer-free life. Healthy people cannot develop cancer.

The Facts: While maintaining a healthy lifestyle through healthy eating and regular exercise, can general reduce the risk of cancer, other factors such as genetic predisposition can further increase the risk of cancer even in the presence of a healthy lifestyle.

Misconception #3: Cancer makes people bald/If your hair is falling out it means you have cancer.

The Facts: One of the side effects of some cancer chemotherapy treatments is hair loss. However, hair loss is a side effect of chemotherapy and not the disease itself.

Also, here are some out-of-scope misconceptions that are not only untrue but also completely baseless and lacking in scientific evidence:

  • Apple juice cause cancer: There is no direct link between apple juice consumption and developing cancer. However, since apple juice has a high sugar content, like other sugary drinks, it should be consumed in moderation to maintain good health.
  • Cancer is communicable: Cancer is a NOT contagious. It might seem like cancer might happen more often in certain families, but this does not mean that the family members spread cancer to each other. It can be due to several reasons; for one, cancer-causing genes can be passed down through familial inheritance, and another reason is that families might sometimes share a similar unhealthy lifestyle or they might be exposed to the same cancer-causing agents in their environment such as tobacco smoke and therefore might be more predisposed to having cancer in the family.
  • Rich people are predisposed to having cancer because they use dryers to dry their hands after washing: This misconception is completely unfounded. There is no link between the use of hand dryers and developing cancer. Hand dryers are designed to blow hot or cool air to dry one’s hands after washing them.
  • Introverts are more likely to develop cancer than extroverts: There is no evidence for this.  
  • “Everything” causes cancer: “Everything” does not cause cancer, however, factors such as genetic predisposition, low physical activity, unhealthy diets, smoking, exposure to radiation and carcinogenic environmental pollutants, and aging can increase one’s risk for developing cancer.
  • Apricot kernels can prevent and treat cancer: Apricot seeds contain a bioactive compound, amygdalin whose synthetic version of amygdalin, gained popularity in the 1970s as a cancer treatment but because of a lack of clinical research evidence that laetrile is effective against cancer or can be used safely, it has not been approved as a treatment for cancer.
  • Moringa seeds, aloe-Vera and beetroot can cure cancer: All these natural plants have bioactive compounds that have anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties, however there is not enough research on their ability to cure cancer.

A few others are:

  • Ketogenic diets can cure cancer: A Ketogenic diet is a low-carb and high fat diet which encourages a process known as ketosis where the body burns fat to make energy instead of sugar thus releasing ketones into the body. Many people believe that sugar is the main source of fuel which feeds cancer, however, ketogenic diets are high fat so they can lead to obesity which is a risk factor for cancer. Ketogenic diet has repeatedly been shown NOT to cure cancer as a monotherapy in human.  However, healthy diet, screening and early detection can help tackle cancer.
  • Putting your laptop on your lap for prolonged periods causes cancer: It may cause some level of exposure to EMFs (Electric and Magnetic Fields), but it is definitely not a risk factor for cancer. Heat from the laptop, however, can burnt the skin thigh.
  • If you leave a bottle of water in your car overnight and you drink it the next day, you can increase your risk of developing cancer: There is no evidence to suggest that drinking plastic bottled water left in a hot car can increase one’s risk of developing cancer. However, researchers advise against drinking plastic bottled water left in a hot car because there has been some evidence to suggest that hot temperatures of cars could promote antimony leaching from PET bottled water.

Thanks for reading. We are available to talk to you on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *