What you think you know about cancer can hinder your understanding of it. Cancer, an illness that used to be synonymous to a death sentences, is now gaining ground as a preventable, and ultimately curable disease, thanks to medical breakthroughs and groundbreaking research. Widespread Internet use has also given cancer patient the opportunity to look for answer to their questions on their own. “The Internet has made us better educated; it has also empowered patients more.
But the Internet is a double-edged sword, both acting as a breeding ground for rumors on widely outdated-and often just improbable-information on the causes and symptoms of cancer, and the cures for it. We get to the bottom of some of these myths.
Lifestyle choices we’ve made in younger years have no bearing on our chances of getting cancer. Charges our teenage haphazard decision-making to the lethal combination of curiosity and invincibility that we, let’s admit it, often gave in to. When you’re 18, and chugging down shots of tequila with your girlfriends or bumming a harmless cigarette from your college crush, cancer seems light years away.
- The Truth: “The risk factors of cancer are age, sex, genetic make-up, viruses, pollutants and lifestyle,” says medical oncologist Dr. Foo Kian fong, M.D., of Parkway Health in Singapore. The lifestyle umbrella, according to Dr. Fong, includes what we eat, how often we exercise, how many cigarettes we smoke and how much time we spend under the sun. From the moment we’re born, every seemingly innocuous things we’ve done counts, and ups the cancer risk altogether. While the World Health Organization does not guarantee a measurable safety limit for drinking alcohol, Dr. Fong says the institution recommends that “Women take no more than one unit of alcohol a day, and for men to take no more than two.” If a glass of wine equal two units, and a pint of beer equals three, we’ve definitely pushed way past our limit on more than one Sunday drinking spree.
- The Verdict: Don’t let the choices you’ve made as a kid come back to haunt you. Pursue a healthy lifestyle, and start now. Cut away the burned portions of you meat that contains carcinogens; reduce your alcohol intake; quit smoking and put on sunscreen daily all these lessen your risk for colon, liver, lung, skin and other types of cancer. While you’re at it, go for a jog or a swim, or take up a fitness dance class. “Four hours of exercise a week reduces your risk of cancer by 50 percent,” says Dr. Fong.
Myth No. 2
Conventional medicine trumps alternative medicine for cancer treatment. The standard treatment protocol for cancer Philippines includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation-all cornerstones of conventional or “Western” medicine. Since this is what we’re familiar with, and since capsules are perceived to be more credible than herbs, a mindset seems to have unconsciously developed that only the conventional course of treatment provides a cure.
- The Truth: Taking the path of alternative medicine requires an open mind. Fuda cancer hospital in Guangzhou, China is a leading hospital that utilize both conventional and alternative medicine in treating their patients’ cancer. While surgeries and therapies are done, patients are also given traditional Chinese medicine, personalized according to their specific case of cancer. Edward Puno, Philippines coordinator of the Fuda cancer Hospital says that combining western and alternative approaches have resulted in “containing, curing and prolonging lives of cancer patients.”
- The Verdict : There is no one guaranteed fix for treating cancer, Treatment is highly personalized, and one approach that works for a person, might not necessarily work for another. While Dr.Palma cautions that “all that is natural is not necessarily safe,” she agrees that the mind is a very powerful thing, and that “unconventional” measures for treatment-such as acupuncture or even positive thinking-do go a long way. “The mind, and how the body affect so much of the patient’s well-being,” says Dr. Palma.
Myth No. 3
The HPV vaccine can lead to death. In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the commercial release of a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine called Gardsile, which prevents infections caused by certain HPV strains that can lead to cervical cancer. In 2009, government watchdog Judicial Watch announced that the FDA had already documented 47 gardasil-related deaths, and demanded for the vaccine to be taken out the market.
- The Truth: While it is easy to raise the alarm over the HPV vaccine with such news, the context where the myth thrived in must be taken into consideration. The US Advisory Committee on Immunization practices requires pharmaceutical companies to submit mortality rates after a vaccine has been made available to the civilian population, says Dr. Palma. “Whether the death occurred due to a car accident, a fall, a brain tumor or a heart disease – it’s all recorded. Not all deaths are necessarily due to the vaccine,” she says. Judicial Watch also reported that Guillain-Barre syndrome, a debilitating neurological disease that leads to paralysis, was also linked to gardasil. Of this, Dr. Palma says the risk of getting the disease isn’t exclusive to only the HPV vaccine. “Guillain-Barré has been recorded for the other vaccines also,” she says.
- The Verdict : The best and safest bet is to go for cervical cancer screening every three years, or as required by your obstetrician-gynecologist. There is a risk for medical complications after receiving the HPV vaccine, but it’s not significantly high enough for the vaccine to be removed from the market. “In the end, the benefits still outweight the risk,” says Dr.Palma. If you’re still wary about the vaccine, go for cervical cancer screening. Screening can definitely catch any early indications of cervical cancer. And early detection is key to survival.
Myth No. 4
Breast and cervical cancer are the top two cancers that affect Filipinans. Maybe it’s because the girls and the V are two things that are exclusively ours, or because awareness on breast and cervical cancer prevention is higher these days. Whatever the reason, breast and cervical cancer are no longer the top two that afflict Pinays.
- The Truth: Data from the Philippine Cancer Society and the Department of Health released in 2010 showed that breast cancers affecting filipinas. But lung cancer has overtaken cervical cancer for the number two spot on the list. Cervical cancer comes in third, followed by liver cancer, then colon cancer. According to Dr.Palma, this significant change in statistic shows that more and more Filipinas are picking up on the smoking habit. Eighty-five percent of all lungs cancer are attributed to tobacco, according to Dr. Fong.
- The Verdict : Even smoking one cigarette a day already quadruples your risk for lung cancer, compared to a non-smokers aren’t spared the risk of lung cancer either. While women smoke less than men, many non-smoking women suffer risk of lung cancer because their husbands or partners smoke. “A non-smoker’s risk for cancer goes upon exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke,” saya Dr. Fong. Lung cancer is highly preventable so quit the habit today, for your sake and for those who breathe the same air you do.
Chemotherapy always leads to hair loss.
Alopecia-partial or complete loss of hair in layman’s terms-can occur in the course of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs go after fast-growing cells in the body, like cancer cells, with no way of distinguishing the good cells from the bad ones. “Hair is also a fast-growing cells. If you try to kill the cancer cells, you will also kill the other fast-growing cells, and hair is one of them,” says Puno.
- The Truth: Medical breakthroughs like Fuda Cancer Hospital’s local chemotherapy have made cancer treatment possible without the risk of losing your hair. In local chemotherapy-with the help of compression technology from Japan called nanotechnology-the chemotherapy drug administered is compressed upon hitting the tumor, making the hit more powerful and more effective. “In general chemotherapy, when 150ml of the drug is injected, only 0.125ml will effectively reach the tumor,” explains Puno. This turtle-paced effects on the tumor is the reason why chemotherapy cycles are often so repetitive and time-consuming. In local chemotherapy, however, only 15ml of the drug is injected. Puno says, “Out of this 15ml, 5ml will reach the tumor, while the other 10ml will dissipate around the tumor.” Since a bigger portion of the chemotherapy drug reaches the tumor directly, local chemotherapy patients get to go home after less chemotherapy sessions, and with their hair intact. Researchers have had success in developing another version of nanotechnology that will ultimately prevent any kind of side effect caused by chemotherapy in cancer treatment.
- The Verdict : Hair loss can be avoided. Advanced versions of chemotherapy have made the symptom of hair loss completely avoidable in cancer treatment.