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Cancer Myth Busters

Focused on Health - September 2011

cancer mythby Laura Nathan-Garner

There’s a lot of misleading information out there, thanks to repeated rumors, studies that get disproven and false advertising claims.

Below, we set the record straight on common myths about cancer prevention and risk factors.

1. Myth: Dark-skinned people don’t get skin cancer.

Reality: Darker-skinned people — including blacks, Asians and Hispanics — can and do get skin cancer.

In fact, the rate of melanoma — the deadliest type of skin cancer — has increased among Hispanics by almost 29% since 1992.

So, skin color is no excuse for skipping sun-safety. Protect your skin by:

Learn more about darker skin and skin cancer.

cancer myth2. Myth: There’s no point in quitting smoking. The damage is done.

Reality: No matter how long you’ve been smoking, you still can reap significant health benefits by quitting.

It’s never too late to quit. But quitting today offers greater health perks than quitting later in life, especially if you’re younger than age 50.  

According to the National Cancer Institute, people who stop smoking before age 50 cut by 50% their risk of dying early from smoking-related causes.

And, no matter how old you are when you quit, you’ll reap these benefits:

  • After a few months: Improved circulation and lung functioning, less coughing and shortness of breath.
  • After 1 year: Heart disease risk is just half of a smoker’s.
  • After 5 years: Risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder is cut in half, and cervical cancer risk is the same as a non-smoker’s.
  • After 15 years: Heart disease risk is about the same as that of a lifelong non-smoker.

Get tips to quit smoking.

3. Myth: Only women get breast cancer.

Reality: About 1% of breast cancer cases occur in men, says the National Cancer Institute. And, due to a lack of awareness about male breast cancer, it’s often found at later stages, when the disease is harder to treat.

Any man can develop breast cancer, but it’s more common in men ages 60 to 70, as well as those with:

Learn about male breast cancer.

cancer myth4. Myth: Nutritional supplements prevent cancer.

Reality: Almost every study on the topic agrees: nutritional supplements don’t reduce a person’s chances of developing cancer. Some studies have even suggested that supplements may increase cancer risk by tilting the balance of nutrients in the body.

Our advice? “If you eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, you should get the nutrients your body needs to lower your chances of getting diseases like cancer,” says Sally Scroggs, health education manager at MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. “Taking a pill can’t replace a healthy diet.”

Still, there are some situations when taking a supplement could do your body good. Pregnant? Have food allergies or an illness that keeps you from getting enough nutrients? You might need supplements. But before popping a pill, speak with a doctor or registered dietitian.

Learn about supplements and cancer prevention.

What do you consider the biggest misconception about cancer prevention? Vote in our Facebook poll.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center