5 Cancer Myths -- Busted!Cancer's scary enough without the overwhelming amount of information out there about its triggers and treatments. Read on to separate the fear from the facts.
The myth: Cell phone use causes cancer.
Gab all you want: Talking on your cell phone won't fill your brain with tumors, research confirms. "The radio waves emitted by cell phones are more akin to the electromagnetic waves that your television emits than to ionizing radiations such as X-rays. They are not known to cause cancer in animals or transform cells in culture," says John D. Boice Jr., scientific director of the International Epidemiology Institute, who conducted the largest long-term study about cell phone use and cancer. Ditto for the rates of brain tumors, which have not increased in the general population during the last 20 years, despite the massive proliferation of cell phones in that time.
The myth: Women with a family history of breast cancer can stop worrying if they test negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
If you have a family history of breast cancer and test negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, you still (unfortunately) face a high risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new study conducted by Steven A. Narod, M.D., director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at the Women's College Research Institute in Canada.
If you do have a family history of breast cancer and test negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, stay vigilant: Watch for changes in your breasts. Get regular mammograms and MRI screenings. And speak with your doctor about preventative options like tamoxifen, a drug that cuts breast cancer risk in half by counteracting cancer-producing hormones on the ovary.
The myth: Female smokers face a greater lung cancer risk than male smokers.
Some early-1990s studies might have led you to think that simply being a woman increases your odds of getting lung cancer. But later research shows that women are no more vulnerable to tobacco-smoke carcinogens than men. Nonsmoking women are also no more likely to get lung cancer than nonsmoking men.
But know this: Lung cancer does kill more women than any other kind of cancer, breast cancer included. So if you don't smoke, keep it that way - and avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible. If you do smoke, stop. Not only will you substantially lower your risk of lung cancer, but you'll reduce your risk of heart disease as well as bladder and throat cancer.
The myth: Taking antioxidant supplements lowers your risk of cancer.
If popping a pill to prevent cancer sounds too good to be true, it is: A recent decade-long study found that women who took antioxidant supplements containing beta-carotene, vitamin C, or vitamin E (either individually or in combination with other antioxidants) developed cancer at the same rate as women who didn't use the supplements.
The problem, studies have noted, isn't antioxidants. It's antioxidant supplements - pills that contain individual or multiple antioxidants, including beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, and zinc. In the end, the best way to get the antioxidants you need is from your diet, says Serge Hercberg, M.D., Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the Medical University of Paris, who headed a recent study on antioxidants and skin cancer. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to reap the benefits of antioxidants - and myriad other nutrients.
The myth: Drinking coffee causes cancer.
Ever since a methodologically flawed study showed a link between coffee and pancreatic cancer in the 1980s, just about every study since has reached the opposite conclusion. So sip away: Your morning coffee won't kill you.
Java might even help you live longer, according to new research, which shows that women who drank two or three cups a day - caffeinated or decaffeinated - faced a lower risk of early death from all health-related causes. The reason? Coffee reduces the risk of heart disease - related death by decreasing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity, explains the leader of a recent study, Esther López-Garcia, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Preventative Medicine and Public Health at Madrid's Universidad Autónoma.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.