Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies



Cancer myth busting

It seems like not a day goes by without some new cancer story hitting the headlines. Cancer is a hot topic, not surprising really when it’s estimated that one in three people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. But how do you tell fact from fiction? Which stories should make you sit up and take note, and which can go straight into the recycling bin?

Here, we’ve pulled together some recent myths about cancer to give you the facts.


  • Myth one Myth one: Mobile phones cause brain cancer

    Using mobile phones has been blamed for increasing a person’s risk of developing brain tumours. It’s been suggested that the radio waves from mobile phones are harmful to health. In 2012, the evidence on the effects of mobile phone radiation was reviewed. No clear evidence was found that mobile phones cause brain tumours or any other types of cancer. However, scientists only looked at mobile phone exposure for up to 15 years, therefore, further monitoring is needed to be sure.

  • Myth two Myth two: Using hair dyes can increase your risk of cancer

    It’s hard to have missed stories in the media about hair dyes and cancer risk. Bladder cancer, breast cancer and blood-related cancers (ie, leukaemia) have all been implicated. Concerns were first raised about hair dyes after studies in mice in the 1970s. It was found that some chemicals in hair dyes contained carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Fast-forward 40 years and this research still appears to be carrying some weight despite a ban on the use of these chemicals.

    Recent large-scale reviews of all the studies in this area suggest there is no evidence that personal use of hair dyes causes bladder or breast cancer. A very small increase in risk was found in relation to blood cancers. However, this evidence was not conclusive and there are concerns that this finding may be down to errors in the research rather than an actual risk. More studies are needed to be sure.

  • Myth three Myth three: An abnormal smear test result means I have cervical cancer

    In the UK, women aged between 25 and 64 are regularly invited to attend screening for cervical cancer (cancer of the neck of the womb). Cervical screening is not an actual test for cancer – rather, it’s a way of detecting and treating early cell changes to the cervix that could develop into cancer over time.

    Receiving an abnormal smear test result can be frightening, but it doesn’t mean that you have cervical cancer. It means that you have cell changes that could develop into cancer in the future. By finding this out early and receiving the right treatment, you greatly reduce your risk of going on to develop cervical cancer. Cervical screening can prevent almost half of women in their 30s and three quarters of women in their 50s and 60s who would have otherwise developed cervical cancer from developing the disease.

  • Bupa cancer promise

    We understand the impact that cancer can have on you and your family. That’s why our health insurance comes with Bupa cancer cover as standard. Find out more today.

  • Myth four Myth four: I have naturally olive or dark skin so I don't need to protect myself from the sun

    Although people with light skin should be more careful in the sun, anyone can burn if the sun is strong enough. The darker a person’s skin, the more melanin pigment they have, which can offer protection from UV rays reducing their risk of developing skin cancer. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t get skin cancer at all. Often, people with dark skin develop cancer on parts of their body that aren’t usually exposed to the sun, such as the soles of their feet.

    Everyone should take care not to burn in the sun by following the sun safety code.

    • Cover up with loose cool clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
    • If swimming outdoors or on the beach, wear a UV-protective sun suit. When out of the water, wear a t-shirt, sunglasses and sun hat.
    • Stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
    • Apply sunscreen on sun-exposed parts of your body. Read the instructions on the bottle to ensure that you’re applying the correct amount frequently enough.
  • Myth five Myth five: There's nothing I can do to prevent cancer

    While there are lots of scare stories and misconceptions out there about cancer, there are most definitely things you can be doing to reduce your risk. Following a healthy lifestyle that incorporates the following is key.

    • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fibre, starchy foods, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.
    • Exercise regularly – aim to do 30 minutes of low intensity exercise on five days of the week.
    • Stop smoking and steer clear of passive smoke.
    • Stick to recommended alcohol limits. For men, no more than three to four units a day, and for women, no more than two to three units a day. And try to avoid drinking on a regular basis.
  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Lifetime risk of cancer. Cancer Research UK., 19 December 2012
    • Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: report of the independent advisory group on non-ionising radiation. Health Protection Agency., published April 2012
    • Takkouche B, Etminan M, Montes-Martínez A. Personal use of hair dyes and risk of cancer: a meta-analysis. JAMA 2005; 293(20):2516–2525. doi:10.1001/jama.293.20.2516.
    • Turati F, Pelucchi C, Galeone C, et al. Personal hair dye use and bladder cancer: a meta-analysis. Ann Epidemiol 2014; 24(2):151–159. doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2013.11.003
    • About cervical screening. NHS cervical screening programme., accessed 3 March 2014
    • Summary statistics from the Cervical Screening Programme in England – 2007-08. Cancer Research UK., 31 October 2009
    • UV, the sun and skin cancer. Sunsmart., updated 17 February 2014
    • Emergencies in general practice. Oxford Handbook of General Practice (3 ed.) (online). Oxford Medicine Online., published August 2010 (online version)
    • Healthy living. Oxford Handbook of General Practice (3 ed.) (online). Oxford Medicine Online., published August 2010 (online version)
    • Reducing harmful drinking., published 25 March 2013
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Kerry McKeagney, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2014.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Image of Andrew Byron

Andrew Byron
Head of health content and clinical engagement

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
  • Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.