Well Ahead Blog

Back to Well Ahead Blog

The truth behind 4 common cancer myths

Riddle Hospital February 15, 2023 Wellness

There are so many myths about your health, passed down from generation to generation. But many of them are unfounded, and some have even been completely debunked.

There are plenty of myths surrounding cancer, including about what causes the disease. At first, many seem to make sense. But it turns out not only are they incorrect, but they can cause unnecessary worry.

Healthcare researchers and scientists have made incredible progress in understanding what causes cancer and the best ways to treat it. Let's uncover the truth behind four myths about the causes of cancer.

Myth 1: Artificial sweeteners can cause cancer.

Trying to avoid eating too much sugar? Like many, you may have turned to artificial sweeteners as a low or no-calorie alternative. Popular artificial sweeteners include saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, sucralose, neotame and acesulfame potassium.

"Maybe you've heard about concerns that these sweeteners can cause cancer," says Eric Fox, DO, cancer specialist at Riddle Hospital. "This myth began largely because early studies revealed cyclamate in conjunction with saccharin could cause bladder cancer in laboratory animals."

However, researchers have studied the effects of artificial sweeteners, and they haven't found any evidence that they can cause cancer in humans. And with one exception—cyclamate—they've all been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Myth 2: Cell phones can cause cancer.

Most of the concerns about cell phone use are because they use radiation around the head. And while ionizing radiation (which is higher than the radiation used by cell phones) has been linked to brain cancer, cell phones have not.

"The radiation used by cell phones is both low frequency and low energy, which means they can't damage DNA, which may increase the risk of cancer," says Dr. Fox. "This, in addition to many scientific studies, suggests that cell phones don't cause cancer of any kind."

Myth 3: Power lines can cause cancer.

If you've ever been searching for a new house, a lot of people will tell you not to buy one near power lines. This is because of an untrue but pervasive belief that they can cause cancer.

Power lines do emit electric and magnetic energy. But the electric energy is shielded or weakened by objects (like walls). Plus, the magnetic energy is too low of a frequency to damage genes and cause cancer.

One study in the 1970s suggested a possible link between living near power lines and childhood leukemia. But recent research has mixed results, not finding any connection or only finding a connection when magnetic fields are very high (an uncommon aspect of residences).

Myth 4: Antiperspirants can cause cancer.

Have you heard deodorant can increase your risk of cancer, including breast cancer?

Antiperspirants use aluminum-based compounds as primary ingredients to stop you from sweating. Some research shows that, when absorbed into the skin, it can have an estrogen-like effect. Estrogen, in turn, can promote breast cancer cell growth.

However, despite this evidence, the best studies have not found a link between deodorant use and breast cancer. As it stands, no scientific evidence suggests you should not use antiperspirants.

Keeping up with the science of cancer

Cancer has been a significant burden on humans for thousands of years. But we've seen major advances in understanding the disease, including its causes. While myths about the causes of cancer are exactly that, it's still important to stay up-to-date with the most recent research about leading a healthy, cancer-free lifestyle.

While cell phones and sugar aren't going to cause cancer, we do know things that can: smoking, sun exposure, being overweight and excessive alcohol use, to name a few. But instead of worrying about cancer myths, focus on the facts. And do your best to lead a lifestyle that will set you up for many years of health and wellness.

Next steps:

Schedule an appointment with Eric Fox, DO
Learn more about cancer care at Main Line Health
Prostate cancer basics: Get the facts on this common cancer