If you believed everything you heard, life would be fraught with cancer-causing dangers. You shouldn’t live in fear thinking everything you do, touch, eat and see might increase your chances of cancer. So, we’ve cut through the misinformation to give you the facts.
Myth 1: Microwaves
It’s long been claimed that microwaves cause cancer by leaking radiation and making food carcinogenic.
“If you use a microwave that works properly, and microwave-safe dishes and utensils, there’s no possibility of it causing cancer,” Professor David Currow, chief executive of the Cancer Institute NSW, says. The level of radiation permitted to leak from a microwave is far below what can harm people – plus, microwaves can’t change food’s molecular structure.
Myth 2: Bras
Before you overhaul your underwear drawer, know this: not a single epidemiological study has been published that directly links bras of any kind to breast cancer risk.
“There was a book published in 1995 called Dressed to Kill that claimed higher rates of breast cancer in western countries was due to the fact women in those countries were more likely to wear underwire bras than women in resource-poor countries,” Currow says. “It was based on no scientific evidence, only the authors’ observations, yet the myth took on a life of its own.”
Myth 3: Deodorant
Claims about the cancer-causing dangers of deodorant usually suggest that the types containing aluminium stop toxins from being flushed from the body and clog the lymph nodes, which can lead to breast cancer. However, this simply isn’t true.
“It’s not biologically possible for deodorant to cause cancer,” Currow says. Aluminium antiperspirants blocks the sweat glands, not the lymph nodes. Also, breast cancer starts in the breast and can spread to the lymph nodes, not the other way around.
Myth 4: Mobile phones
An 18-year Danish study of more than 350,000 mobile phone users found no link between mobile phone use and brain tumour incidences. Meanwhile, a 2014 UK study of almost 800,000 women also found mobile phone use wasn’t associated with an increase in cases of brain cancers.
“People have been digging deep for this link but always come up short,” Currow says. “We now have data from more than 20 years of mobile use, where we’ve measured how often a person uses their phone and their rates of cancer, and found no reason to believe mobile phone use causes any type of cancer.”
Myth 5: Fluoride
“There’s not a single piece of evidence to suggest fluoridated water causes cancer,” Currow says. After reviewing thousands of studies on fluoridation in 2007, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommended continuing to add fluoride to our water supply.
Myth 6: Sunscreen
Celebrity Aussie chef Pete Evans and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen have questioned sunscreen’s safety, fuelling the rumour that some of its ingredients – specifically zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – cause cancer.
The reality? They don’t.
“There’s absolutely no evidence to support that claim,” Currow says. “Sunscreen is safe – that’s been confirmed by Australian and international research.” A 2013 Therapeutic Goods Administration review of the scientific literature on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide concluded that neither are likely to cause us harm when used as ingredients in sunscreens.
Myth 7: Diet soft drinks
Some people have attributed a range of conditions including brain cancer to consumption of artificial sweeteners, but such claims are anecdotal. “There’s no evidence that diet soft drinks or artificial sweeteners cause cancer in humans or are unsafe in the doses typically consumed,” Currow says.
“This myth came about because of a study on rats that were given doses a person would never be exposed to. The fact it’s persisted proves how important it is to distinguish between experiments on animals and those done with people.”
Myth 8: Plastic water bottles
The belief is that when plastic bottles and food containers are exposed to heat, chemicals leach into their contents, causing liver damage and cancer. While Currow says plastics don’t cause cancer, it can’t be said definitively that they don’t have any health risks as the evidence is still uncertain. Experts say it’s important to follow directions for storing and cooking food in plastic containers.
Unknown myth: Wi-fi
Wi-fi is classified as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, as are Styrofoam cups, carpentry and pickled vegetables. This means cancer hasn’t been comprehensively ruled out but a link also hasn’t been established.
“Wi-fi hasn’t been widespread for as long as mobile phones so we don’t have the same comprehensive data,” Currow says. “But we’re confident the power transmissions are so low they won’t cause any harm.”
For more on this topic, this is what to eat on the anti-cancer diet, and this is how the ketogenic diet may boost targeted cancer therapy.
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