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Common Myths about Cancer and Cancer Health Disparities

, by CRCHD staff

Some population groups continue to experience cancer health disparities and a diminished quality of life. These groups include the poor, racially and ethnically diverse groups, and those with limited or no access to healthcare. Cancer is a terrifying disease for whomever it touches. Unfortunately, it also generates some myths and false ideas out of fear and having inaccurate information.

To better understand cancer and cancer health disparities, some common misconceptions are addressed below. 

Myth 1: Everyone experiences the same burden of cancer, regardless of racial/ethnic background and socioeconomic factors.

Truth: It is true that cancer affects people of all races and ethnicities in the U.S.; however, some population groups experience a greater burden than others. People from low socioeconomic households, who lack or have inadequate health insurance, and members of select racially and ethnically diverse communities frequently have a higher incidence and/or mortality rate for specific types of cancers. There are many examples of cancer health disparities.

Myth 2: Cancer is a death sentence.

Truth: In the United States, the likelihood of dying from cancer has dropped steadily since the 1990s. More than 12 million cancer survivors are living in the United States. Thanks to improved treatments and earlier diagnosis of some cancers, more cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis. Five-year survival rates for some cancers, such as breast, prostate, thyroid cancers, and leukemia, now exceed 90 percent.

Myth 3: I don’t have control of my own cancer risk.

Truth: Cancer is unpredictable, but there is growing research that shows that adopting certain behaviors can lower your cancer risk. The NCI lists some preventative measures you can take – regardless of age or family history. These include not smoking, eating healthy, staying active, getting screened regularly and vaccinated for certain types of cancer, and using sun protection to name a few. Learn more about cancer causes and risk factors.

Myth 4: No one in my family has cancer, so I don’t have to worry about getting screened.

Truth: Only about 5 to 10 percent of cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of cancers are caused by mutations as a result of aging and other factors, such as lifestyle, behavioral, and environmental factors. Learn more about cancer prevention, genetics, and causes. Cancer screenings can identify some types of cancers before symptoms appear and research shows that early screening for these cancers does reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about cancer screening and screening tests.

Myth 5: There is nothing I can do to help reduce cancer health disparities.

Truth: Everyone can help reduce cancer health disparities. If you’re a member of a racial or ethnic group with a greater burden of cancer, you can encourage your family and friends to get regular health check-ups and ask their doctor about questions they have about cancer. You can participate in community health fairs and surveys that help assess the health needs of your community and you can pass on healthy lifestyle and screening practices to your children. You can consider participating in clinical trials to help further our understanding of cancer health disparities, and help advance the field of precision medicine.

 You can also help deconstruct some common cancer myths by sharing this blog article with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues in the cancer research community and help educate others about cancer health disparities.


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