Monday 23 October 2017

We still believe myths about cancer risks

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

MANY people are still "shockingly unaware" of common cancer risks while wrongly believing myths that the disease is caused by aerosol sprays and tight underwear.

A survey of 748 people found nearly one in five incorrectly believed that if there was a history of cancer in the family there was nothing they could do to prevent it.

Many still wrongly see a blow to the breast, stress and the use of mobile phones as cancer threats, the research carried out by University College Cork (UCC) found.

They were unaware of real risk factors such as obesity, the position of fat around the waist, age, sunlight, alcohol and lifestyle.

"A large portion of the Irish population is misinformed and unaware of the real risk factors for cancer," warned Dr Aoife Ryan of UCC, who carried out the research with Breakthrough Cancer Research and the Irish Cancer Society.

The results showed:

• ON GENETICS

The public is misinformed about the role of genetics, with a quarter of those surveyed believing more than 50pc of cancers are inherited.

More than half think 10pc to 20pc of cases are due to genes. But the truth is that just 3pc to 5pc of cancers are genetic.

• ON OBESITY

Just one in three is aware that obesity is a risk factor for cancer, while 33pc are unaware that having an "apple shape" body increases risk.

More than eight in 10 people were able to say the correct waist circumference is 32 inches for women; slightly less knew it should be 37 inches for men.

However, four in 10 said the purpose of fat was to insulate and protect organs, while 57pc did not know fat cells secreted substances that can cause cancer.

"Some 63pc think mobile phones are dangerous, while 70pc believe cleaning agents and aerosol use are risky, which are all unproven," the researchers added.

• ON FOOD

More than a quarter wrongly blamed cheese as a cancer risk, while others incorrectly named soy, milk chocolate and eggs as possible danger foods.

Around 40pc of all cancer deaths are preventable by eating particular foods, engaging in physical activity and controlling body fat, but only 20pc were aware of this.

Dr Derek Power, a cancer specialist at the Mercy and Cork University Hospitals, pointed out: "While most surveyed were aware of classic risk factors such as smoking and poor diet, there are a lot of misconceptions.

"We hope that by sharing these common misunderstandings and informing the public about proven cancer risks and preventable measures, we can help people to make lifestyle choices that will reduce their risk of developing the disease."

Ireland is anticipated to experience a 72pc rise in cancer incidences by 2030 and the risk is one in three for men and one in four for women.

The key messages are: don't smoke, be as lean as possible without becoming underweight, be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and limit consumption of red and processed meats.

Irish Independent

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