Every year 4th February is observed as World Cancer Day – a day to raise awareness and strengthen the fight against the global cancer epidemic. It’s also important to address the ever-growing misinformation about cancer on social media.
By Tej Kumar
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. According to the World Health Organization, many cancers have a high chance of cure if diagnosed early and treated appropriately.
Sadly, the many myths and misconceptions about the disease often contribute to unfounded fears, causing delay in diagnosis and proper treatment of cancer. There’s no dearth of quick fixes and miracle cures on social media. For instance, a viral video on YouTube – with over 500K views – claims that any stage of cancer can be cured with home-based diets, fasting and exercise.
This World Cancer Day, let’s sift myths from facts in order to help patients make informed choices about cancer care.
Myth 1: Avoid biopsy because it spreads the tumour in the body.
Fact: In most cases, the only way to make a definitive cancer diagnosis is to perform a biopsy. The doctor takes a small piece of tissue from a suspected tumour or area of concern and then, a pathologist looks at it under a microscope to make a diagnosis.
Every medical procedure carries risks. However, studies show that the benefits of biopsies far outweigh the risks, including tumour seeding in rare cases. It’s best to discuss with your doctor the risks of having or not having the biopsy as well as any concern that you may have about the procedure.
Myth 2: Beat cancer by getting in more oxygen through physical exercise.
Fact: Cancer cells can grow in any body environment, basically cancer cell grab energy against the gradient.Their relationship with oxygen is a bit more complicated, though, says Dr Jayesh D Patel, a surgical oncologist based in Ahmedabad, India. While oxygen therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy, have been studied as chemo-radiation sensitizer to increase response to both therapy.
In HBO therapy, with the presence of oxygen, there will be an increase response rate to chemotherapy as well as to radiation. However, there’s no conclusive evidence yet to show that they can cure cancer.
As far as physical exercise is concerned, it’s recommended to check with your oncologist before embarking on any new activity.
Myth 3: Adopt plant-based diets to increase nitric oxide in the body, which helps stop cancer cell growth.
Fact: Nitric oxide and cancer is an emerging and potentially therapeutically viable field of research. However, there’s not enough scientific evidence at this point to support any claims of plant-based diets being the best way forward.
Myth 4: Embrace fasting to halt the growth of cancer cells.
Fact: Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells. While there are many claims made about the health benefits of regular fasting, studies show that in cancer, the autophagy is highly context-specific, depending on the cell type, tumour microenvironment, disease stage and external stimuli. “For most patients, a balanced diet helps during cancer treatment,” notes Dr Jayesh.
Cancer can be cured. The key is early and correct diagnosis, which can result in appropriate and effective treatment. This World Cancer Day, let’s spread facts, not fear.