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.

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kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer – is also called Renal Cancer – Almost all kidney cancers first appear in the lining of tubules in the kidney. This type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma and occurs in 4 out of 5 cases of kidney cancer and is also called renal adenocarcinoma or hypernephroma. Other types of kidney cancer include- transitional cell cancers of the renal pelvis and Wilms tumor of the kidney occurring in children.

The good news is that most of kidney cancers are found before they spread (metastasize) to distant organs. And cancers caught early are easier to treat successfully. However, these tumors can grow to be quite large before they are detected.

We don’t know the causes of kidney cancer. But certain factors appear to increase the risk of getting kidney cancer. For example, kidney cancer occurs most often in people older than age 40.

These are some other risk factors for kidney cancer:

  • Smoking. This applies to cigars or cigarettes
  • Being male. However, several case reports on renal cancer in Nigeria report a higher female preponderance.
  • Being obese. Extra weight may cause changes to sex hormones that increase risk.
  • Using non-aspirin, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for a long time. 
  • Having advanced kidney disease or being on long-term dialysis.
  • Having certain genetic conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome or inherited papillary renal cell carcinoma. In rare cases long standing sickle cell nephropathy is a risk.
  • Having a family history of kidney cancer. The risk is especially high in siblings.
  • Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as asbestos, cadmium, benzene, organic solvents, or certain herbicides
  • Having high blood pressure. Doctors don’t know whether high blood pressure or medication used to treat it is the source of the increased risk.
  • Being black. 
  • Having lymphoma. For an unknown reason, there is an increased risk of kidney cancer in patients with lymphoma.

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

  • Hematuria (Blood in the urine)
  • Abdominal mass
  • Abdominal pain
  • A loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Leg swelling

Symptoms of metastasis include;

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Bone pain

Sometimes the presentation of kidney cancer includes what is called paraneoplastic syndromes. This means that signs, symptoms and complications are not directly attributable to the kidney cancer but are associated with it. For instance

  • Hypercalcemia and its complications
  • Increased prolactin production and in men breast growth and in some cases, milk letdown.
  • Increased production of red blood cells presenting with a PCV >54% due to abnormally increased production of erythropoietin by the kidney.
  • In rarer cases there is new onset impaired glucose tolerance or worsening of existing diabetes mellitus


To confirm a diagnosis of kidney cancer, a thorough physical exam, health history, and tests are required.

Testing required includes:

  • Urinalysis
  • Renal function tests.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) highlighting any tumors.
  • Ultrasound to identify simple versus solid or complex masses.
  • A CT scan with and without contrast. CT scans have replaced IVP and ultrasound as a tool for diagnosing kidney cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with or without contrast.

Most of the time a diagnosis can be made without a biopsy. Sometimes, a biopsy will be done to confirm the diagnosis. A doctor may use a needle biopsy to remove a sample of tissue, which is then examined under a microscope for cancer cells. The biopsy may also tell the grade of the cancer. Often the surgeon will simply remove the entire tumor and then have a sample of tissue examined.

Once a diagnosis is made additional testing is required to assess the stage of the cancer. For this, a CT scan or MRI, chest X-ray or a bone scan can see if the cancer has spread to other organs like the liver, brain, bones or surrounding tissues.

Stages of Kidney Cancer

Prognosis depends on the patients general health, as well as the grade and stage of kidney cancer.

Stage I

  • A tumor 7 centimeters or smaller, limited to the kidney

Stage II

  • A tumor larger than 7 centimeters, limited to the kidney

Stage III

  • A tumor that is in the kidney and in at least one nearby lymph node
  • A tumor that is in the main renal vessel(s) and may also be in nearby lymph node
  • A tumor that is in perinephric fat and may also involve nearby lymph nodes
  • A tumor that extends into major veins or perinephric tissues, but not into the ipsilateral adrenal gland and not beyond Gerota’s fascia

Stage IV

  • Cancer has spread beyond the fatty layer of tissue around the kidney, and it may also be in nearby lymph nodes
  • Cancer may have spread to other organs, such as the bowel, pancreas, or lungs
  • Cancer has spread beyond Gerota’s fascia (including contiguous extension into the ipsilateral adrenal gland)

Treatments for Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer is one of the more common cancers to undergo spontaneous remission. However, the incidence is quite low (approximately 0.5%).

There are several standard types of treatment for kidney cancer. In most cases, surgery is the first step. Even if surgery removes the entire tumor, residual disease may be addressed with non-surgical approaches.

Surgery for kidney cancer

The type you have depends on how advanced the cancer is.

  • Radical nephrectomy removes the kidney, adrenal gland, and surrounding tissue. It also often removes nearby lymph nodes. It is the most common surgery for kidney cancer and can now be done through a small incision with a laparoscope.
  • Simple nephrectomy removes the kidney only.
  • Partial nephrectomy removes the cancer in the kidney along with some tissue around it. This procedure is used for patients with smaller tumors (less than 4 cm) or in those patients in which a radical nephrectomy might hurt the other kidney.

If surgery can’t remove the kidney cancer, other options to help destroy the tumor include;

  • Cryotherapy.
  • Radiofrequency ablation.
  • Arterial embolization involves inserting material into an artery that leads to the kidney. This blocks blood flow to the tumor. This procedure may be done to help shrink the tumor before surgery.

Biologic therapy for kidney cancer

This therapy uses the immune system to fight cancer by boosting, directing, or restoring the body’s natural defenses. Substances for biologic therapy are made by the body or in a lab. Examples of biologic therapy for metastatic kidney cancer include interferon alpha or interleukin-2. Other biologics that have been used in treatment of renal cancer include Bevacizumab, Sorafenib and Sunitnib. More recently, Nivolumab is approved as a biologic for treating renal cancer. There are many other new immunotherapies being actively studied for kidney cancer.

Targeted therapy for kidney cancer

This therapy uses drugs or other substances to find and target cancer cells with less toxicity to normal cells. One type of targeted therapy is anti-angiogenic agents. These keep blood vessels from feeding a tumor, causing it to shrink or stop growing. Another type of targeted agent is known as multikinase inhibitors or tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These are oral drugs that block an enzyme pathway which allows cancer cells to grow. A third type of targeted therapy is known as m-TOR inhibitors such as Everolimus and Temsirolimus. There are two of these drugs available, one oral and one by IV. They block a pathway which allows blood vessels to help tumor cells grow. Each of these drugs has a unique place in the management of advanced kidney cancer.

Radiation therapy for kidney cancer

Often used to help with symptoms of kidney cancer or in patients who cannot have surgery, this treatment uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or halt their growth. External radiation therapy sends radiation to the cancer from a machine outside the body.

Chemotherapy for kidney cancer

This therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop them from multiplying. Less effective for kidney cancer than for other types of cancer, chemotherapy is mostly used for a certain type of kidney cancer in which there spindle cells (sarcomatoid variant).

This article was written by Dr Egbuna of Kidney Solutions Center, Nigeria

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