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The truth about the top 3 cancer myths

Cancer biology: Setting the facts straight

The biology of cancer is the source of two other common misconceptions:

1. Cancer cells grow faster than normal cells. Cancer cells don’t grow faster, but they do live longer. That means they divide more times than a normal cell, thus increasing in number faster than normal cells.

2. Cancer is a single disease. In fact, there are more than 100 types of cancer. One thing all types have in common: the uncontrolled spread of abnormal cells.

Cancer strikes most people with dread. Many of us shudder whenever we hear of someone who has been diagnosed with the disease—even if it’s someone we don’t know. Some of this fear is overreaction, caused mainly by three common myths.

Myth 1:Cancer is generally fatal. It’s certainly true that cancer kills—more than 565,000 Americans a year, according to the American Cancer Society. Yet, 64 percent of all cancer victims diagnosed between 1994 and 2000 were still alive five years after treatment. Most of these survivors were considered cured. Additionally, some cancer patients who do die within five years are killed by other causes, such as heart disease, accidents and diseases of old age.

Early detection is the key to curing cancer. That’s why regular screenings and self-exams are so important. Two-thirds of patients diagnosed with melanoma or with cancer of the breast, tongue, mouth, colon, rectum, cervix, prostate or testis survive five years or more. With early detection, about 95 percent would survive.

Myth 2:Cancer pain is untreatable. Many people associate cancer with excruciating pain. In reality, more than half of all cancer patients characterize their pain as moderate. For those who do experience episodes of severe pain, several treatment options are available. These include pain-relieving drugs, radiation therapy (to shrink a tumor that’s causing pain) or surgery (to block nerve pathways that carry pain impulses to the brain).

Myth 3:Cancer can’t be prevented. The sense that cancer can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime is part of what makes it so frightening to people. While it’s true that many cancers aren’t preventable, many are.

According to the American Cancer Society, 90 percent of skin cancers could be prevented if people protected themselves from the sun’s rays. In addition, all cancers caused by tobacco use and heavy drinking are preventable. Overall, researchers estimate that if people applied everything known about cancer prevention to their lives, up to two-thirds of cancers wouldn’t occur.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media