Busting cancer myths

02 July 2015 | Healthy living

Kym Lang, our Head of Health Information, spoke at our recent event for community health workers in Newcastle where she took the opportunity of busting cancer myths.

Is our cancer risk just down to our genes? Does stress increase the risk of cancer? Do superfoods help prevent cancer? A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at the World Cancer Research Fund UK event for community health workers in Newcastle, with the aim to share the facts about cancer prevention and bust a few cancer myths along the way.

Perhaps the title of my presentation was a giveaway, but there were still a few dubious faces in the room when I opened with the words, “So can you really prevent cancer through food, exercise and staying slim?”

Yes, you can.

About a third of the most common cancers cases in the UK, (for example breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer) could be prevented if we all ate a healthy diet, were physically active, and maintained a healthy weight. That’s equivalent to around 81,000 cases of cancer a year – nearly a full house at Wembley Stadium in London.

Quite staggering. Increasingly Britons seem to be aware of the links between lifestyle and cancer. Despite this, we still eat too much fat, sugar and salt and not enough fruit and vegetables. There is a gap between “awareness and action” and community health workers, like the practice nurses, pharmacists and health trainers who came to our event in Newcastle, can help us bridge that gap.

This event was a great opportunity to spend time with community health workers, hear about their experiences and discuss their questions at length. With one in two of us likely to get cancer in our lifetime – which can translate to a lot of patients and clients for those in health professions – it’s worth knowing the facts and challenging a few cancer myths.

For instance, it’s a myth that stress causes cancer, although the way we deal with stress might: say by overeating and then gaining weight; smoking; or drinking too much. And although plant foods like vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses reduce cancer risk, there are no ‘superfoods’: what counts is a super, balanced diet.

The NHS spends more than £5billion a year on cancer services. Obesity could overtake smoking as the top cause of cancer deaths in just a couple of decades. Yet only 5-10% of cancers are due to inherited faulty genes. Those of us in frontline health promotion roles are well placed to support people to make small changes that can make a big difference.

It comes down to this: healthy eating, moving more and being a healthy weight reduce cancer risk.

If you’re working in health and want more information, we have information and resources available for health professionals.

Health Information | 02 July 2015

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