Many Americans Believe Cancer Myths
Misconceptions About Personal Risk of Cancer Common, Survey Shows
WebMD News Archive
July 26, 2007 -- True or not: Underwire bras cause breast cancer, and the
risk of dying from cancer in the U.S. is increasing.
If you answered “no” to the first statement, and “yes” to the second, you
probably know as much as the average American about cancer risk, according to a
newly published survey by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The 12-question survey revealed that a surprising number of Americans
believe scientifically unproven claims concerning cancer.
The questions included those about cancer risk associated with smoking,
commercial tanning, and behaviors, such as the use of electronic devices and
personal hygiene products.
The notion that underwire bras cause cancer is pure urban myth that has been
making the rounds on the Internet for the past several years, Kevin Stein, PhD,
of the ACS, tells WebMD.
Death Risk Dropping
Nearly seven in 10 people surveyed (68%) incorrectly believed the risk of
dying from cancer was increasing in the U.S.
While the overall number of cancer deaths has been rising, this is because
the population is increasing, as is the average age of Americans.
But statistics make it clear that an individual's risk of dying from cancer
has been going down over the last two decades, while the five-year survival
rate among people with the disease has been going up, says Stein.
“It is not hard to understand why people would believe their risk of dying
from cancer is greater, but the implications for prevention and treatment are
troubling,” Stein tells WebMD. “If people believe we aren’t successfully
treating cancer or if they believe a certain behavior is not a risk factor,
they might be more likely to engage in that behavior or put off seeking
Stein points out that despite the growing and aging population, the actual
number of cancer deaths in the U.S. fell last year for the first time in the
history of cancer surveillance.
What You Don’t Know ...
The 957 adults who responded to the survey did reasonably well on many of
the questions, with two-thirds correctly identifying at least seven of the 12
statements as false.
The study appears in the Sept. 1 issue of the ACS journal Cancer.
Among the other highlights from the survey:
- Nearly 4 out of 10 people (39%) incorrectly believed that living in a
polluted city was a greater risk for lung cancer than smoking a pack of
cigarettes a day, while 19% were not sure if the statement was true or
- 15% incorrectly believed that people who smoke low-tar cigarettes were
less likely to die of lung cancer than people who smoked regular cigarettes,
and 11% weren't sure if this was true.
- Roughly 1 in 5 respondents did not believe or weren’t sure if long-time
smokers could reduce their lung cancer risk by quitting smoking.
- Fewer than 1 in 10 believed that breast cancer screening through mammogram
or X-ray caused breast cancer (8.4%), that getting a base tan at a tanning
salon helped protect against later damage from the sun (6.2%), or that
underwire bras contribute to breast cancer (6.2%).