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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 11:27 EDT

And the Number One Cancer Myth Is…

June 27, 2005

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) — When US adults were polled about certain erroneous cancer ‘myths’, the most widely believed misconception was that surgical removal of a cancer can cause it to spread throughout the body.

The next most common misconception? A cure for cancer already exists but it is being withheld from the public in order to increase profits.

The new findings, which appear in the medical journal Cancer, come from a telephone survey of 957 randomly selected adults who reported never having been diagnosed with cancer.

Forty-one percent of subjects believed that surgery could, in fact, spread a malignancy to other regions of the body, lead author Dr. Ted Gansler, from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues note. Twenty-seven percent of the people surveyed thought there was a conspiracy to withhold a cure for cancer from public knowledge.

The third most common cancer myth was that there are no effective medications for cancer pain, endorsed by 19 percent of respondents.

The last two most common beliefs, each considered true by about 7 percent of respondents, were that a positive attitude alone can beat cancer and that there are no effective treatments for cancer.

“The prevalence of at least three of the five cancer misconceptions was unacceptably high, and varied by several sociodemographic factors,” the investigators report. They found that these beliefs were most likely to be held by older people, those of non-white descent, people living in southern states, and those who admitted that they were ignorant about cancer.

Having incorrect perceptions about cancer and its treatment can actually put people’s lives in danger, the team points out. “These beliefs may increase the risk for cancer morbidity and mortality because of poor adherence to treatment regimens.”

SOURCE: Cancer, online June 27, 2005