5 Common Cancer Myths You Should Tune Out

Here are five common myths about cancer and why you should tune them out.

Posted Oct 06, 2020

Adam Niescioruk/Unsplash
Source: Adam Niescioruk/Unsplash

Myths about cancer spread because they seem to make sense. The internet is full of these myths and friends and family members who are trying to help people with cancer often share them.

The truth is that there’s no credible evidence for these myths. Paying attention to them only causes more stress and worry.

Here are five common myths about cancer and why you should tune them out.

1. If it’s natural, it must be safe and better.

People often think that natural products like herbs and botanical supplements are safe. But many plants are toxic or deadly. Some herbal products can interfere with cancer treatments. St. John’s Wort, for example, makes chemotherapy less effective and worsens skin problems from radiation therapy.

Available evidence about natural products varies. At best, there is some evidence that certain herbs and botanical supplements work for and are safe in coping with some side effects of cancer treatment, according to Your Healing Journey: A Patient’s Guide to Integrative Breast Cancer Care. For example ginger can relieve nausea and vomiting from chemo and ginseng can reduce fatigue. There is no evidence that any herbal product can treat cancer.

Talk to your cancer care team before using any natural product.

2. Dietary supplements can’t hurt you if you take them with cancer treatment.

Using dietary supplements during cancer treatment can be dangerous. Dietary supplements can interact with your cancer treatment and make it less effective.

Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, or products made from plants, animal parts, algae, seafood, or yeasts. The quality of dietary supplements varies and sellers in the United States don’t have to show that they’re safe and effective. A lot of information about dietary supplements is wrong.

Eat whole foods packed with cancer-fighting phytochemicals and nutrients instead of taking dietary supplements. Whole foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

Learn More About Dietary Supplements

Talk to your cancer care team before using any dietary supplement.

3. Sugar makes cancer grow.

Sugar doesn’t make cancer spread faster and not eating sugar won’t cure cancer. But you shouldn’t have too much sugar during cancer treatment because it’s not healthy.

Healthy eating will help you feel better and heal and recover faster. Also, some cancer treatments work better if you’re well-nourished and are eating enough calories and protein.

To nourish your body, mind, and spirit during cancer treatment, eat:

  • Lots of vegetables and fruit
  • Moderate amounts of whole grains, and plant protein like nuts, beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh
  • Moderate portions of fish, poultry, lean meats, and non-fat or low-fat dairy foods

4. Attitude—positive or negative—determines how likely you are to recover from cancer.

Your attitude doesn’t affect your risk of developing or dying from cancer. “If you have cancer, it’s normal to feel sad, angry, or discouraged sometimes and positive or upbeat at other times,” says the National Cancer Institute.

Getting social support can help you have a more positive attitude. Social support empowers you to fight your cancer and helps you feel better during treatment. It can come from:

  • Family and friends
  • Support groups
  • One-on-one counseling
  • Online communities
  • Tools to communicate with family and friends like Caring Bridge.

Get Support

5. Oncologists don’t want you to try complementary treatments.

Oncologists want their patients to get safe and effective treatments, whether they’re conventional or complementary. But some complementary treatments can interfere with your conventional cancer treatment. Others don’t work or might hurt you. Oncologists want to help you choose complementary treatments that will help relieve your symptoms and treatment side effects, and use them safely.

Also, oncologists want to make sure that you use complementary treatments along with conventional cancer care. This is called integrative cancer care. Many leading cancer centers offer integrative oncology or integrative medicine services or programs.

Learn More About Integrative Cancer Care

Many National Cancer Institute- (NCI-) Designated Cancer Centers offer integrative oncology or medicine services or related programs. Find an NCI center near you here.

If your cancer center doesn’t offer integrative oncology or medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can add complementary and lifestyle approaches to your treatment plan.

Integrative cancer care can:

  • Minimize anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Relieve other cancer symptoms and treatment side effects
  • Boost your overall sense of wellbeing

The content in the guide is evidence-informed, based on the best available information at the time of publication. Talk to your cancer care team before using any complementary and lifestyle approach to cancer care.