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Myth busting Dr Google cancer misinformation

Myth busting Dr Google cancer misinformation: Ahead of World Cancer Day, Bupa UK  reports increased numbers of people are turning to Dr Google for Cancer Misinformation.

Myths surrounding cancer can cause unnecessary worry about your health and wellbeing. New research from Bupa UK has found a sharp rise in people turning to “Dr Google” about the incorrect causes of cancer between December 2020 and 2021*:

  • 250% more searches for ‘can cancer spread from one person to another’
  • 120% more searches for ‘does antiperspirant cause cancer’ and 40% increase for ‘does hair dye cause cancer’
  • Bupa’s Medical Director Dr Tim Woodman warns us all about the dangers of believing these misconceptions, and why more people are turning to Google for their cancer queries.

With a surge of people searching for the biggest causes of cancer in 2021, it’s important to sort fact from fiction.

Dr Tim Woodman, a Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance, says: “Myths, such as whether cancer is contagious, spread misinformation and can prevent people from speaking to healthcare professionals. Common misconceptions can also contribute to stigmas and taboos surrounding cancer.

It’s crucial to only use reputable sources for cancer support – for example, NHS, Cancer Research and Bupa’s free-to-access Health Hub, which has lots of advice on cancer and symptoms to look out for.

I would encourage anyone who is worried about their health or experiences a change that is unexplained or persistent to seek medical advice as soon as possible. For example, if you notice breast lumps and changes to your breasts, you’re having problems passing urine or you notice changes to an existing mole, speak to a healthcare professional.”

Here are the 5 biggest cancer myths, according to Bupa’s Dr Tim Woodman:

Myth 1: Cancer is contagious

  • 300% increase in searches on Google for ‘is cancer transmittable’
  • 250% more searches for ‘can cancer spread from one person to another’

You cannot catch cancer from someone else. If you know someone who has cancer, there’s no need to avoid them. It’s OK for you to look after them through their diagnosis. Often, a loved one who has cancer needs your support more than ever.

Myth 2: Burnt foods cause cancer

  • 24% more searches for ‘does burnt food cause cancer’
  • 22% increase in searches for ‘foods that cause cancer’

A quick search on Google shows a variety of articles linking burnt food to cancer. When you cook foods at a high temperature, acrylamide (a chemical that’s found in starchy foods like bread and potatoes) forms naturally.

However, there’s not enough evidence to link burnt food to an increased risk of cancer. Some things you eat, including processed food and red meats, can increase your risk, but this doesn’t mean that you will get cancer.

Myth 3: Hair dye can lead to cancer

  • 40% more searches for ‘does hair dye cause cancer’

Based on the available research, personal use of hair dyes to change your hair colour won’t cause cancer. Hair dye is unlikely to be a significant risk factor, if it is one at all.

More research is needed, however there is a small amount of evidence that daily contact with hair dye may increase your risk of developing bladder cancer. However, family history, diet, smoking, and exercise have far more to do with your cancer risk. Additionally, smoking remains the biggest risk of developing bladder cancer. In fact, you’re three times more likely to develop bladder cancer if you smoke.

Myth 4: Deodorant can cause cancer

  • 120% more searches for ‘does antiperspirant cause cancer’

You may worry that certain chemicals found in personal care products, like deodorant, cause cancer.

The myth that deodorant causes breast cancer has been circulated for many years.

There are strict safety regulations and laws that control which ingredients can be used in makeup and toiletries, so rest-assured that antiperspirants, body sprays and deodorants do not cause cancer.

Your chances of developing breast cancer increases with age, so make sure you’re regularly checking your breasts and take note of any changes. Being overweight, drinking more than the recommended weekly amount, and having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk too.

Myth 5: Injuries can lead to cancer

  • 40% more searches on Google for ‘can injury cause cancer’ in September, October, and November 2021

Another common myth is that an injury can cause cancer. Stories about potential causes – like this one – are often in the media and it isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence.

Injuries may sometimes lead to someone finding a cancer near to the injured area that was already there before the injury, but the injury won’t be the leading cause. There’s no evidence that an injury can cause cancer. Sometimes an injury can cause a lump, but again, this won’t lead to a cancer diagnosis.

Four simple ways to lower your risk of cancer, according to Bupa’s Medical Director:

1. Lead a healthy lifestyle: Studies have shown that if you do 30 minutes of moderate activity that raises your heart rate, every day, you can significantly reduce the risk of several major cancers (including breast, bowel, and womb cancer).

Exercise is also helpful if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer both during and after treatment. A balanced diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, and healthy. Sources of protein (white meats, fishes, and pulses) will help you maintain a healthy weight, and ultimately lower your risk of cancer.

2. Drink sensibly: Why not try the latest trend of ‘mindful drinking’? Being aware of why you’re drinking and how much alcohol you’re having can often lead to a healthier relationship with alcohol and less consumption.

Over the long term, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of serious illnesses, such as mouth, throat, and breast cancer. Drinking guidelines can be hard to follow but try to drink in moderation and have some alcohol-free days a week.

3. Stop smoking: Tobacco smoke contains lots of chemicals and toxic gases, known to harm to your health, and increase your risk of lung cancer.
Stopping smoking can be more effective if you choose your quit method and then establish a social support network to help you. If you need help quitting, options like nicotine replacement or support groups to help with the psychological addiction, could be for you.

4. Attend your screenings: Health checks and cancer screenings and across all ages are there to detect any early signs of abnormalities and cancer. It’s important to attend these and know how to identify changes in your own body.

Attending all appointments, even if you’re feeling well, is vital. An abnormality could be found before you start showing any symptoms. Early detection is key to effectively treating cancers.

*All data taken between December 2020 and December 2021. Source: Based on internal analysis from Bupa of Google search data.

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