Certain popular ideas about how cancer starts and spreads – though scientifically wrong, can seem to make sense, especially when those ideas are rooted in old theories. To a certain extent, it can be the case with treatment too. But wrong ideas about cancer can lead to needless worry and even hinder good prevention and treatment decisions.
In one study, a surprising 40% of Americans believe cancer can be cured solely through alternative therapies, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)’s second annual National Cancer Opinion Survey. In a similar study in UK, the NHS blamed social media for the spread of fake healthcare news. Unfortunately social media ‘misinformation’ includes ‘alleged’ cures for various ailments including cancer. I think we’ve all been there, we check twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc and we find the ubiquitous miracle cures for every illness under the sun. Easy to find, easy to read and worryingly, easy to share. Surely these cures must be true, after all…..it’s on the ‘NET’.
Has wide access to the internet exacerbated this problem?
The rise of the (Inter)NET has allowed people to use ‘social technology’ to help shape the world’s events and culture. Additionally, the NET has increased the speed of how relationships develop, the way information is shared and (whether you like it or not) how influence can be leveraged for gain. Facebook has taught us new ways to communicate and collaborate through features like feeds, profiles and groups. At the same time, smartphones and tablets provide mobile and instantaneous access to information from any location. Whether you like it or not, we are witnessing the power of social media and its effect on society. However, the ‘NET’ can also provide ‘misinformation’ and it’s pretty good at it.
When I was diagnosed with metastatic Neuroendocrine Tumours (aka ‘NETs’) in 2010, I took to the ‘NET’ to find out about my ‘NETs’ !! However, I soon found out the ‘NET’ is potentially more dangerous than my NETs. Put a foot in the wrong place and ‘boom’. Not only can you get easily lost but you end up with dubious information which looks pretty credible. Moreover, in some cases this can be unnecessarily stressful and upsetting for some. Fortunately I had worked with information technology for years and combined with my sceptical but inquisitive nature, I was able to overcome this problem. I’m very careful where I look and now use that to my advantage, along with many other savvy cancer patients.
The champion ‘myth busters’ are the world-renowned Cancer Research UK but there are many other similar sites in North America and beyond and I always check these sites when I see something in the media which sounds too good to be true. For example, there is a 25 year old myth that sugar feeds cancer cells to cause proliferation and this seems to be shared by many patients as something which looks true. It is NOT true and the biggest cancer advocate organisations will all confirm this. But this myth persists day in day out. Although research has shown that cancer cells consume more sugar (glucose) than normal cells, no studies have shown that eating sugar will make your cancer worse or that, if you stop eating sugar, your cancer will shrink or disappear. However, a high-sugar diet may contribute to excess weight gain, and obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer – that is a totally different problem (causal vs correlation). This is one of a number of cancer myths that seem to continuously patrol the NET, including on patient forums. Take a look at Cancer Research UK’s ‘Don’t believe the hype – 10 cancer myths debunked’. Whilst you’re there, take a look at their Science blog as they always follow up the most recent headline grabbing newspaper articles claiming to have found the cure for cancer (again). Cancer Research UK will always provide balanced commentary on these claims – they believe in evidence not headline grabbing. Ditto on my sites too.
Cancer Research UK is not alone in trying to help dispel some of these myths – you can also fact check on the big US site Cancer.Gov – see their myth busting article here.
I also like the list from Cancer.NET – American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) – read it here. (Science Fact or Science Fiction)
You may also enjoy:
Alternative Therapy risks – click here
Miracle Cures – click here
Cancer kills but so does fake cures – click here
Hope is great, false hope is not.
Thanks for reading.