Thursday, March 21

Cancer myths debunked


WITH so much information readily available on cancer, it is difficult to tell fact from fiction. Dr Faye Lim, Consultant, Division of Radiation Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore, helps debunk some common myths.


Regular checkups and medical technology can help detect all cancers early.

Unfortunately, not all cancers can be easily detected early. Other than attending regular cancer screenings, we should also be vigilant to changes in our body. For breast cancer, conducting breast self-examination (BSE) is a good way for women to identify changes.


Cancer is a death sentence and there’s nothing I can do about it once diagnosed.

“Cancer” is a difficult word but it is not the death sentence it was in the past. As medicine advances, many treatment modalities are readily available. They are often used in combination to attempt a cure, or, if that is not possible, to improve the patient’s life expectancy and quality of life. Patients also have opportunities to enrol in worldwide clinical trials that allow access to newly developed drugs. Early detection through cancer screenings can also improve the success of treatments.


If there is no pain, it can’t be cancer.

Pain may not be a good indicator of cancer, as a lot of cancers show up in very nondescript ways. That is why it is important to go for regular screening such as mammography, cervical smears and faecal occult blood testing. These tests allow us to spot the cancer when it is still in its early stages.


My mum has breast cancer, so I will definitely get it too.

If there is a history of breast cancer in the family – for example, if your mother, aunts, sisters or grandmother have had it – then there is a higher chance that you can develop it too. It is important to let your doctor know your family history so that you can be screened early. Your family will also be given the option of genetic counselling and screening to see if there is a faulty gene in the lineage.


Re-using plastic water bottles can cause cancer, as these are made using a chemical that can leach into the water.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that backs the claim that reusing, storing or freezing water in plastic bottles causes cancer.


Prolonged or frequent use of antiperspirants, hair dyes or makeup products like eyeliner and lipstick can cause cancer.

There is no proven link between the use of these and the development of cancer. The development of cosmetics is heavily regulated, and manufacturers must ensure that their cosmetics are safe before they can be sold.


Exposure to radio-frequency energy while using handphones can cause cancer, so I should not use my handphone too often, keep it too close to my body or allow my young children to use it.

Currently there is no proven link between radio-frequency waves from mobile phones and the development of cancer. However, research is still ongoing and researchers are constantly looking for new evidence.


Consuming sugar, barbecued food, processed meat, red meats and instant noodles can cause cancer.

Numerous factors contribute towards the development of cancers, and it is difficult to pinpoint a root cause for the disease. The key to reducing the risk of cancer is to have a healthy and balanced diet, do regular exercise, and have periodic medical checkups.


I have big breasts, so I have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

There is a no link between breast size and the risk of developing cancer. All women have a risk of developing this type of cancer, and that is why all should go for screening and check their breasts regularly.


All cancer treatments will make me nauseous and cause me to lose my hair.

With today’s medical advances in chemotherapy drugs, not all patients will experience hair loss or nausea. There is plenty of anti-nausea medication available that can be given to minimise these side effects.

• This story was first published in Singapore Health, Mar-Apr 2016 issue.