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Sugar, Cell Phones and Secret Cures: Debunking Cancer's Biggest Myths

Does sugar fuel cancer? What about cell phones? CURE spoke with an expert on some of the most common myths and misconceptions about the disease.
BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED November 16, 2017
The internet can be a wonderful tool to instantly spread important health information, such as Food and Drug Administration approvals and the latest cancer research.

But with so much information constantly flying back and forth, there are bound to be some bogus claims — both about the causes of cancer and remedies that claim to cure the disease. With just a little bit of research these myths can be put to rest.

The Cancer-Sugar Connection

One of the most common myths surrounding cancer is that sugar causes or accelerates the growth of cancer cells, according to Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D., oncologist, internist and palliative care specialist at Mayo Clinic.

The cancer-sugar connection, known as the “Warburg effect,” became popular, when a researcher named Otto Heinrich Warburg found that cancer cells require sugar to grow and cannot thrive in a low-sugar environment.

“This does seem to be true in the lab, if this is true in humans is what is not known,” Moynihan said in an interview with CURE.

Moynihan noted that recent research found some yeast cells that lacked a certain enzyme demonstrated Warbug effect-like properties. However, since single cell organisms are vastly different than humans, it is difficult to apply these findings to people.

“At this time, there is no human data that suggests sugar consumption will make cancer grow faster. However, there is also no data that going on a completely sugar-free diet helps cancer.”

Cell Phones and Brain Cancer

In a time when most people are connected to their smartphones, should they be worried about developing cancer from using them?

The jury is still out on this one, but as for now, there is “still no reason to think that cell phones can cause brain cancers,” said Moynihan.

Cell phones hit the market in the 1980s  and have continued to boom. However, some people have concerns since cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation. Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from X-rays, is known to increase the risk of cancer.

“If they did cause cancer, we would have seen a large increase in cancer incidents by now,” Moynihan said.

The “Secret Cure”

Another common myth, according to Moynihan, is that many people believe the medical establishment has a cure for cancer, but, since the disease makes so much money, this secret cure is kept under wraps.

“This is a typical frustration with any serious condition that does not have easy answers,” Moynihan said. “But if you think about how much they are currently charging for cancer treatments that only work a little bit, can you imagine how much someone could charge for any treatment that cured the cancer?”

Further, many researchers and health care professionals go into the field of oncology because their own lives have been touched by cancer.

“They certainly would not ‘hide’ these treatments from their loved ones, and many have very pure motives to try and find effective treatments for these terrible disease,” he said.

Beautiful, But Sick?

Moynihan explained that many people are leaning toward more “natural” beauty products, ranging from hair dyes and makeup to shampoos and body wash to avoid potential toxins. But this may not be necessary.

“There is little reason to think that ‘natural’ products are safer,” he said. “There is no data to suggest that chemicals in hair dyes and beauty products cause cancer. Nature produces many very toxic chemicals, often much more toxic than things that humans can make.”

For instance, toxins such as cyanide are natural, as well as cancer-fighting chemotherapy agents, like Taxol (paclitaxel), which comes from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, Moynihan said.

What Can Cause Cancer and Affect Outcomes?

Although it may be tempting to eliminate sugar from your diet or switch shampoos to prevent cancer, those measures may not be needed.

Moynihan pointed out that two major contributors for the disease are obesity and inactivity. He suggested people make changes in these areas.

“Get up and move. Eat smaller amounts. Eat healthier,” he said. “This coupled with not smoking or using tobacco products and consuming alcohol in minimal doses can decrease one’s risk of cancer more than anything else.”

Other preventative measures include getting vaccinations — human papillomavirus and hepatitis B — and following screening recommendations. The earlier the cancer is caught, the better outcomes patients typically have.

“A good dose of common sense goes a long way,” Moynihan said. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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