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Cancer Myths Abound, Survey Finds

Many think surgery spreads the disease; others suspect cure being withheld

MONDAY, June 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- While cancer is less likely to be talked about today in the hushed tones of yesteryear, Americans still hold many misconceptions about the disease, a poll of U.S. adults has found.

For example, among 957 U.S. adults polled, about 41 percent believe that surgical treatments for cancer actually spread the disease.

Another 27 percent believe scientists have already found a cure for cancer, but that this cure is being withheld by the health care industry because it makes more money treating the illness.

The survey results will appear in the August 1 issue of the journal Cancer.

Dr. Ted Gansler, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society and the study's lead author, said the results did not surprise him. "We actually did suspect there would be a lot of gaps in the understanding of cancer," he said. "That expectation is based on the experiences with the American Cancer Society call center." He was referring to a toll-free number, 800-ACS-2345, which provides callers with information on cancer.

In the survey, conducted nationwide in late 2002, adults with no history of cancer were asked to decide if five statements were true or false.

Besides the statements regarding surgery and the "hidden cure," adults were also asked about pain medications. Nineteen percent incorrectly believe that current medications are ineffective against cancer-related pain. Most respondents -- 89 percent -- correctly disagreed with the statement that "all you need to beat cancer is a positive attitude."

"The higher the income and the higher the education, the less likely [respondents] were to believe the myths," Gansler said. "But it is worth emphasizing that, even in people with high income and high education, some still believe the myths."

The results of the survey also did not surprise Dr. Ray DuBois, director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn. "There are probably a number of people who have misconceptions," he said.

Most surprising, he said, was the widespread belief that the medical industry is hiding a cure. "It's just the reverse," DuBois said, noting that companies are trying to fast-track new drugs and treatments to get them to people as soon as possible.

The survey results, said DuBois, probably mean that cancer centers should "beef up their public education efforts." He noted, "There are more misconceptions out there than some people realize."

Doctors should also alert patients that resources are available to answer all of their questions, DuBois said. Besides the American Cancer Society's toll-free information line, individual cancer centers, such as the one he directs, also maintain patient-education offices and other resources to address questions and concerns.

Gansler said the survey results suggest that doctors must pay closer attention to information given to patients. If a patient has a misconception, it could affect their treatment decisions, he noted.

For consumers, said Gansler, "the message is to learn as much as you can about your disease, ask your doctors questions and don't hesitate to use resources like the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and other organizations."

There was one bright spot in the survey: More than 87 percent disagreed with the statement that cancer is something that cannot be effectively treated. "People do realize that many are cured," Gansler said.

More information

To get the true facts on cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Ted Gansler, M.D., director, medical content, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.; Ray DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., director, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, Tenn.; Aug. 1, 2005, Cancer
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