Six common misconceptions about cancer

profile photo of Andrew Protheroe
Consultant Oncologist
30 August 2022
Next review due August 2025

Cancer happens when abnormal cells in your body grow in an uncontrolled way. We know a lot about factors linked to cancer. But there are also certain claims or beliefs about cancer that are not supported by evidence. Here I talk about some cancer myths and misconceptions and why they are misleading.

woman typing on a laptop

Do phones cause cancer?

We use smart phones for a lot of things. Phones emit radiation but this radiation is too weak to cause cancer. Research has been done that shows phone use is not linked to cases of cancer. Also, 4G and 5G networks are not known to carry any cancer risks. There are ways that using your phone too much might be harmful to your health. But getting cancer is not one of them.

Is there a link between stress and cancer?

Stress is mainly a physical response to situations or events. A certain amount of stress can be positive because it can help you respond to situations. But too much stress can cause both mental and physical problems. It’s not that stress can cause cancer by itself. But when you are stressed, you might find it hard to stay healthy. For example, you might drink more alcohol or smoke more than usual. Drinking too much alcohol and smoking are both known to increase the risk of cancer.

There are things you can do to recover from stress, such as exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep. Or, you may want to speak to a GP about treatments for stress such as talking therapies or antidepressants.

Do sweeteners cause cancer?

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are used to sweeten foods and drinks. They have fewer calories than sugar and are considered safe to eat. No studies done in humans have shown that artificial sweeteners have a strong link to cancer. So, you can still eat foods that have artificial sweeteners. In fact, because they have less calories than sugar, eating foods with artificial sweeteners can be helpful if you want to lose weight.

Is burnt food bad for you?

It’s easy to burn food. You may have heard of a chemical called acrylamide which forms when heating foods such as bread and potatoes. It can also be found in coffee. But acrylamide or eating burnt food is not linked to cancer.

Cooking meats at high temperatures by frying or grilling causes chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines to form. These chemicals have been associated with cancer, however the amount we take in from cooked meats would not be enough to cause cancer.

Foods that we know have cancer risks include foods high in animal fats and red and processed meat. Whether these foods are burnt has no role in developing cancer.

It’s important that you eat a balanced and varied diet as this can help reduce your risk of cancer.

Do genetically modified foods cause cancer?

Genetically modified foods (GM foods) are made using plants or animals that have had their DNA changed. For example, this might be done to crops to make them more resistant to pests. GM foods have been ruled as safe to eat, and there is no scientific evidence to show that they cause cancer. GM foods cannot be sold if they pose a health risk. This means if GM foods did have a link to cancer, there are rules in place that they are not sold for consumption. GM foods also need to be labelled as being genetically modified.

Do deodorants cause cancer?

You might have heard that deodorants and body sprays have a link to breast cancer. The reasoning behind this is because they contain aluminium. But the evidence is not there to show that these products will make you develop breast cancer. Things that we do know are linked to breast cancer include:

  • age
  • family history of breast cancer
  • being overweight
  • drinking alcohol

It can be hard to know what information to trust when there is so much of it out there. Always make sure that the information you look at is backed by evidence. There are many charities and organisations which provide helpful and trustworthy information about cancer.

If you’re showing symptoms of cancer, our direct access service aims to help you see someone as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, and depending on your symptoms, you may not need a GP referral to see a consultant. Learn more today.

profile photo of Andrew Protheroe
Professor Andrew Protheroe
Consultant Oncologist

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