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Cancer: Separating Fact From Fiction

If you are one of many people who believe that your behavior as a young adult has no bearing on whether you will be diagnosed with cancer later in life, you are mistaken. Sunbathing or smoking can directly increase your risk for skin or lung cancer. Yet despite cancer education efforts from multiple national organizations, many people still hold false beliefs about the disease.

It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is touched by cancer. The National Cancer Institute offers advice on how you can make a difference to those with cancer.

• Donate. If you can, donate blood or sign up for the National Marrow Donor Program registry.

• Give. Throughout the year, there are opportunities to help local and national cancer support organizations through monetary donations.

• Help. Prepare meals for a cancer patient’s family or volunteer to pick up his or her kids from school.

• Volunteer. Even if you don’t have the financial means to donate to a cancer advocacy organization, your time can be just as valuable.

Common misconceptions about cancer include beliefs that exposing a tumor to air during surgery will cause cancer to spread, that living in a polluted area is a bigger risk for lung cancer than smoking and that electronic devices, including cell phones, cause cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), surgery will not spread cancer, smoking is by far the greatest risk for lung cancer and there is no evidence that electronic devices cause cancer.

“You may be surprised to hear that one of the misconceptions people have about cancer is that it can be passed from person to person,” says Barry Mirtsching, M.D., medical oncologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. “Cancer is not contagious.”

Rather than focusing on rumors about cancer, you can make basic lifestyle changes that may lessen your overall risk.

According to the ACS, a healthy lifestyle includes:

• A balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean proteins

• Exercise

• Maintaining a healthy weight

• Not smoking

• Regular checkups and appropriate screenings

“Too often, people listen to the latest misconceptions, which seem to change every day,” says Mirtsching. “Instead, focus on creating habits proven to reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases. Staying healthy is a proactive choice. Make a difference for yourself and others by leading by example.” (Spring 2009)

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