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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.

Details

  • 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

    Sources

    • Lifetime risk of cancer. Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, 19 December 2012
    • Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: report of the independent advisory group on non-ionising radiation. Health Protection Agency. www.hpa.org.uk, 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. www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk, accessed 3 March 2014
    • Summary statistics from the Cervical Screening Programme in England – 2007-08. Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, 31 October 2009
    • UV, the sun and skin cancer. Sunsmart. www.sunsmart.org.uk, updated 17 February 2014
    • Emergencies in general practice. Oxford Handbook of General Practice (3 ed.) (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2010 (online version)
    • Healthy living. Oxford Handbook of General Practice (3 ed.) (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2010 (online version)
    • Reducing harmful drinking. Gov.UK.www.gov.uk, published 25 March 2013
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    Reviewed by Kerry McKeagney, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2014.

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