Health Library

Categories > Cancer > Cancer prevention and screenings

Reality check

Although many Americans may think they know a lot about cancer, some people still believe common misconceptions about the disease, according to a recent American Cancer Society survey. These mistaken notions can lead people with cancer to put off seeking the important care they need, undermining their recovery.

The following four myths are among the most persistent and unfounded.

Myth 1. All you need to beat cancer is a positive attitude.

A positive attitude can improve your quality of life during cancer treatment. With upbeat determination, you’re more inclined to eat well, exercise, get adequate rest and follow your treatment program. But a sunny outlook can’t destroy malignant tumors. Doctors rely on effective treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and biological therapy to fight cancer.

Myth 2. Cancer can’t be effectively treated.

The flip side of myth#1, this pessimistic perception holds that cancer is unstoppable once it develops. But today’s early detection methods and more precise treatment options can often halt cancer in its tracks. In 2002, for example, more than 10 million Americans were alive who had been diagnosed with cancer at least five years earlier. Of those, almost 716,000 were diagnosed with cancer more than 27 years ago.

Myth 3. Treating cancer with surgery can make it spread.

Years ago, cancer was often more advanced by the time doctors found it during exploratory surgery—which fueled the notion that opening the body during an operation and exposing tumors to air caused cancer to spread. On the contrary, surgically removing malignant tissue is a critical part of many cancer treatment plans, often preceding chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Myth 4. Medications aren’t effective in reducing cancer pain.

About 90 percent of people with cancer pain can get relief, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek help when they feel pain. Some patients forget to take medication or wait too long between doses. Others won’t complain to their doctors when they feel pain. But speaking up about cancer pain to your doctor or nurse and adhering to a regular pain medication schedule can prevent pain before it starts or worsens.