After you are diagnosed with cancer, you might find yourself swarmed with well-meaning family and friends. In addition to bringing you dinner and driving you to your appointments, they might also directly or indirectly talk with you about different aspects of your disease. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad information out there surrounding cancer and oncology, and some of it can be really scary. Here are three cancer myths that you should be aware of, and why you shouldn't necessarily worry.
1: Death Is Imminent
If you are like most people, you probably think of cancer as a death sentence. Although you might understand you won't die immediately, you probably figure that after an uncomfortable, depressing battle, you will lose the fight. Unfortunately, this attitude is widespread, and other people might treat you like you are on your deathbed, even if you only have a mild form of cancer.
The most important thing to understand about your disease is a cancer diagnosis today isn't what it was ten years ago. Today, doctors know more about cancer and have access to better medications than they did even a few years back. Your chances of beating the disease are better than they have ever been. In fact, the risk of dying from cancer has been decreasing since the nineties, and today less than half of cancer patients die from the disease.
Hearing you have cancer can be terrifying, but you shouldn't let it scare you into giving up. Remember cancer treatments have changed a lot over the years, so try to ignore those stories about your friend's second-cousin's brother-in-law who had the same type of cancer that you did, and then died. Talk with your oncologist about the best treatments for your specific type of cancer, and start fighting it early.
2: Everyone Loses Their Hair
Another common misconception about cancer is that everyone will lose their hair. You might worry about how you will look in public during your cancer fight, and how you will continue to live your normal life. However, before you take a teary trip to the wig store, it is important to understand that having cancer doesn't necessarily mean that you will go bald.
Believe it or not, some cancers can be treated in ways that won't make you lose your hair. For example, if you have a mild form of breast cancer, your doctor might decide to surgically remove the tumor, and then treat the area with radiation. Even cancers that require chemotherapy don't necessarily mean that your hair will fall out. Some types of chemo are a lot milder than others, and may only cause partial hair thinning that people won't even notice.
Talk with your oncologist about whether or not you will be losing your hair. You might be able to avoid this troubling aspect of cancer treatment altogether, or have a better understand of when it will happen.
3: Your Kids Are Going to Get It
If you have cancer, your kids are probably going to get it, right? Not so much. Believe it or not, only about 5-10% of cancers are caused by genetic defects that can be passed on to your children. However, because some lifestyle choice can influence your cancer risk, it is important to evaluate the behaviors of your entire family.
For example, if you love to smoke and your children grew up in that environment, they might be more likely to pick up the habit. Because smoking causes cancer, your kids might be more likely to develop the disease. However, this correlation doesn't mean that your children have genetic lung cancer.
Your oncologist can talk with you about whether or not your type of cancer is genetic, or if it was most likely caused by a lifestyle choice. If your doctor is worried about the possibility of inherited conditions, you might be able to take a blood test to check for genetic mutations. For example, if you have breast cancer, your doctor might test you for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genetic mutations, which both play a role in breast cancer development.
However, don't assume that just because you have cancer that your children are doomed to endure treatment sometimes during their lives. Work with your oncologist to understand more about the disease before you let your children worry needlessly.
Having cancer can be difficult, but by learning more about the disease, your treatment might be a lot less stressful.