Myths busting

Dr Pragya Shukla, Head of Clinical Oncology, Delhi State Cancer Institute, clears misconceptions about cancer treatment
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.

Myth: Cancer is not curable

Facts: All cancers are different. Different stages of even the same cancer have different prognoses. Almost all cancers are treatable and curable if detected early. Early-stage cancer is treatable in India as well as abroad, and late-stage cancer cannot be treated either in India or abroad. Oncology services offered in India are at par with the best in the world.

Myth: Treatment for all cancers is the same

Fact: Cancer treatment is broadly done using radiotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Sequencing and use of modality are based not only on the tumour site but also on many other factors. The toxicities associated with modern treatment modalities, be it chemotherapy or radiation, are minimal and can be easily controlled or treated. Not all cancer treatments are associated with hair loss, and even if this occurs, it is reversible.

Myth: Tobacco has medicinal properties and does not cause cancer

Fact: Tobacco does not relieve tooth pain, heal oral ulcers, give energy, increase stamina and remove constipation. It does cause cancer. All forms of tobacco, be it gutka, cigarette, bidi, e-cigarette, vaping, hukka smoking or any other state. The direct carcinogenic effects of tobacco are established in cancers of the bladder, blood (acute myeloid leukaemia), cervix, colon, rectum, oesophagus, kidney, liver, lungs, bronchi, trachea, pancreas, stomach, mouth and throat. The substance is indirectly associated with almost every cancer in the body. 

Myth: Alcohol is good for health if taken in limited quantity

Fact: All and every type of alcohol taken in whatever quantity harms the health. Alcohol is a direct or indirect carcinogen in almost every cancer. There is strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases people’s risk of cancers of the breast, liver, mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), oesophagus and bowel.

Myth: Biopsy and FNAC causes spread of disease

Fact: For a confirmatory diagnosis of solid cancers to be made, it is imperative to have either histological or cytological proof. Biopsy provides histological confirmation, and Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC) provides cytological confirmation. None of these investigations aggravate the growth of cancer. Radiological (Ultrasound, CT Scan, MRI, etc.) and nuclear medicine (PET Scan ) investigations can only suggest malignancy.

Myth: Cancer lumps are painful

Fact: Not all lumps are cancerous. However, we must get them investigated as soon as possible. Most of the early cancer lumps are not painful. It is with the growth and involvement of nerves and surrounding structures that the pain sets in. Diagnosis in an early stage can lead to a cure.

Myth: Cancer is infectious

Fact: Close contact in the form of sex, kissing, touching, sharing meals, or breathing the same air cannot spread cancer. Cancer cells from someone with cancer cannot live in the body of another healthy person. There is no evidence that cancer can be transmitted by blood transfusion. Though some cancers are known to be caused by certain viruses and bacteria, the cancers they cause cannot spread from person to person.                       

(Compiled by Kavita Bajeli-Datt)

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