“Don’t eat burnt toast.”
“Don’t sleep next to your phone.”
“Don’t wear deodorant.”
What do these warnings have in common? They’re all supposed causes of cancer.
I’m pretty sure we’ve had all of these warnings ingrained in us by our parents since young. In fact, our folks would go so far to WhatsApp us cancer-causing claims from time to time.
The question is: Is there any truth in those claims or are they merely myths?
To validate these 12 common cancer claims, we reached out to Dr. S. Malar Santhi, the resident medical officer at KPJ Kajang Specialist Hospital. She has been practicing in the medical field for the past 8 years, 3 of which are with KPJ Kajang Specialist Hospital. In her line of work, she deals with cancer patients during the initial diagnostic process when they present to her with relevant cancer symptoms.
She also regularly conducts various screening tests for her patients according to their risk factors. “As a private practitioner, I have the luxury of conducting screening tests at my patient’s best interest and this includes PAP Smear tests, full blood tests, ultrasounds of the breast, mammograms and thyroid screenings,” said Dr. S. Malar.
And yes, she DOES get cancer myths thrown at her every now and then and these are just some of them:
Myth 1: Being stressed and unhappy for a prolonged period of time will cause cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: Although stress can cause a number of physical health problems, the evidence that it can cause cancer is weak. Some studies have indicated a link between various psychological factors and an increased risk of developing cancer, but others have not.
Apparent links between psychological stress and cancer could arise in several ways. For example, people under stress may develop certain behaviors such as smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol, which increases a person’s risk for cancer. Someone who has a relative with cancer may have a higher risk for cancer too because of a shared inherited risk factor, not because of the stress induced by the family member’s diagnosis.
Myth 2: Eating microwaved meals will lead to cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: A microwave oven does not make food radioactive. It heats food by producing radiation which is then absorbed by water molecules in the food. This makes the water molecules vibrate and produce heat which cooks the food.
Microwaved meals do not have any known harmful effect on humans. There is no single research paper which can relate links between microwaved meals and cancer. Even in mice, it only demonstrates gastrointestinal upset, and metabolic disorder in certain cases, but not all.
Myth 3: If you don’t switch off your WiFi router, the electromagnetic waves will develop into cancer over time.
Dr. S. Malar: WiFi operates in the 2 to 5 GHz range—part of the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. They are non-ionising radiation. The level of energy produced by a Wi-Fi router is very low, far too low to be able to disrupt DNA, so there is no mechanism for it to be carcinogenic. In fact, there is no credible evidence that non-ionising radiation has any adverse health effects at all.
Myth 4: We shouldn’t eat burnt toast because the carcinogenic elements of it will cause cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: There is a longstanding theory from animal studies conducted back in 2002, but the link has yet to be proven in human studies. Earlier mouse studies identified that high levels of a compound called acrylamide led to an increased risk of cancer.
Acrylamide is what makes bread and potatoes turn golden in color and is formed when food is cooked at temperatures above 120° Celsius. As for toast, toasting bread to a light brown colour, rather than a dark brown colour, lowers the amount of acrylamide. However, very brown areas contain the most acrylamide. Higher levels of acrylamide would further increase your risk of cancer.
Myth 5: If we eat too much sashimi, it would lead to cancer.
Dr S. Malar: There is a vague link between Helicobacter Pylori infection and the risk of stomach cancer. However, there is no clear link between sashimi leading towards cancer. Therefore, please go ahead and enjoy your sashimi.
Myth 6: Holding your bladder will cause you to get bladder cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: There was never such a link, nor medical evidence proving this. However, numerous rumours and hearsay does exist about this myth. The truth is the primary cause of bladder cancer remains to be smoking.
Myth 7: Wearing a bra to sleep will cause breast cancer cells to develop over time.
Dr. S. Malar: The notion of a correlation between wearing a bra and breast cancer does not appear to hold up.
Myth 8: If you get your hair dyed, it would lead to brain cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: Numerous researches have been carried out regarding this myth. However, none has any medically-backed linkage. Interestingly, most researchers tried to correlate dyeing ones’ hair to blood cancer, and not brain cancer.
Myth 9: Don’t wear deodorant because it’ll clog your lymph nodes and lead to breast cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: Only a few studies have investigated a POSSIBLE relationship between breast cancer and deodorants. One study which was published in 2002 reported that there is no increase in breast cancer amongst women who used underarm deodorants.
Myth 10: Standing next to a microwave when it’s turned on will give you cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: Many epidemiological studies have addressed possible links between the exposure to radio frequencies (RF) and the risk of cancer. However, because of the differences in the design and execution of these studies, their results are difficult to interpret.
A number of national and international peer review groups have concluded that there is no clear evidence of links between RF exposure and excess risk of cancer. The World Health Organisation has also concluded that there is no convincing scientific evidence that exposure to RF shortens the lifespan of humans, or that RF is an inducer or promoter of cancer. However, further studies are necessary.
Myth 11: Talking on your phone without a hands-free kit will give you brain cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: Phones emit radiofrequency energy (radio waves), a form of non-ionising radiation, from their antennas. Tissues nearest to the antenna can absorb this energy. Radiofrequency energy, unlike ionising radiation, does not cause DNA damage that can lead to cancer.
The only consistently-observed biological effect in humans is tissue heating. In animal studies, it has not been found to cause cancer or to enhance the cancer-causing effects of known chemical carcinogens.
Myth 12: Sleeping next to your phone would lead to cancer.
Dr. S. Malar: For now, no one knows if cell phones are capable of causing cancer. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there’s no convincing evidence that cell phone use increases the risk of cancer.
Many years’ worth of studies on cell phones and cancer has yielded conflicting results. Currently, there’s no consensus about the degree of cancer risk—if any—posed by cell phone use.
Eliminating Misconceptions On Cancer
To date, there are many ongoing speculations and researches to find the exact and possible causes of cancer. Although no single cause of cancer can be directly identified, the most well-known risk factors for all types of cancer includes:
2) Family history of cancer malignancy
3) Poor lifestyle habits: less physical activity, obesity, bad eating habits.
With that being said, Dr S. Malar noted that there has been clinical cases whereby patients with no risk factor at all were still diagnosed with cancer. The only way to ensure that one is not at risk is early detection, including annual medical check ups, cancer marker screenings, PAP smear examinations, screening OGDS and colonoscopy.
Think you might be at risk? Sign up for a cancer screening with KPJ Healthcare by clicking here.