There are several cancer myths floating about that may have scared you away from eating barbequed vegetables or even going near a cancer patient. Some are misguided while others do have some basis of truth in them. We shed light on eight common cancer beliefs and whether you should trust them
MYTH Eating charred food – even vegetables – can cause cancer.
TRUTH It’s true that charring red meat can create heterocyclic amines (HCAs), chemicals linked to an increased risk of a range of cancers. But HCAs are the result of a specific recipe of amino acids and creatine, a combination you won’t find in any vegetable, says Karen Collins, a nutrition expert for the American Institute for Cancer Research. “However, burning vegetables can form carcinogens like benzopyrene, which is found in larger amounts in cigarette smoke.” So go ahead and slap your asparagus, onions and zucchini on the grill, over indirect heat.
MYTH A person with cancer can infect other people.
TRUTH “This myth is one of the oldest,” says Dr See Hui Ti, a senior consultant, medical oncology at Parkway Cancer Centre. “Cancer comprises living cells, which – unlike certain bacteria – cannot exist outside of a body. They require the ‘environmental support’ of the person afflicted. So the moment the cancer cells leave the carrier, they die.”
MYTH We all have cancer cells in our bodies.
TRUTH “Everyone has cells that have mutant proteins from DNA damage, but to say that that’s cancer would be alarmist,” says Jennifer Loros, a professor of biochemistry and genetics at Dartmouth Medical School. A cell’s natural cycle has checkpoints that determine whether it’s in a healthy state and should divide, or if it’s damaged and should repair or kill itself. “Cancer can occur when the normal checkpoints in the cell cycle are misregulated somehow and the (unhealthy) cell starts dividing,” Loros says. Usually, a powerful protein called P53 will trigger tumour suppression if damage is detected at a checkpoint.
MYTH Living in a polluted city will eventually give me lung cancer anyway.
TRUTH “This myth appeals to smokers, who try to convince themselves and their loved ones that smoking is not all that bad,” says Dr See. “However, air pollution is far less likely to cause lung cancer than smoking, even in the most polluted cities in the world.” Dirty air has a greater impact on heart disease, asthma and chronic bronchitis. But it is estimated that air pollution increases the risk of lung cancer by only 1/100th from the risk brought on by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. “So, living in a clean environment is no remedy for lighting up for personal pleasure,” says Dr See.