False Ideas About What Causes Cancer Are Rampant - BRIGID Magazine

Thursday, June 7, 2018

False Ideas About What Causes Cancer Are Rampant

Image: Connor Limbocker
Cancer is caused by stress, food additives, and eating genetically modified foods, right?

Actually, wrong.

But if you answered yes to any of these you're certainly not alone. In fact, a large portion of the population appears to believe in false causes of cancer. Unfounded beliefs about cancer are rife, according to a recent study by researchers at University College London and the University of Leeds.

The researchers surveyed 1,330 people in England and found that more than 40% incorrectly believed that stress and food additives caused cancer, while around 35% incorrectly believed that genetically modified (GMO) foods and electromagnetic frequencies caused cancer.

None of these apparent causes of cancer are supported by scientific evidence, yet incorrect information abounds online and appears to be fuelling a lot of the cancer misinformation. In short, fake news is distorting our knowledge of cancer and the actions we can take to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

"It's worrying to see so many people endorse risk factors for which there is no convincing evidence," said Dr. Samuel Smith of the University of Leeds. "Compared to past research it appears the number of people believing in unproven causes of cancer has increased since the start of the century... It's vital to improve public education about the causes of cancer if we want to help people make informed decisions about their lives and ensure they aren't worrying unnecessarily."

Preventable causes of cancer include smoking, second-hand smoke exposure (aka passive smoking), obesity and being overweight, alcohol consumption, poor diet, physical inactivity, and exposure to UV rays.

And the good news? According to the above-mentioned study, people's awareness of actual causes of cancer is greater than their belief in false causes of cancer.

While lifestyle changes are able to prevent between one third and one half of cancer diagnoses, it's important that we are aware of the real causes of cancer.

These are the evidence-based actions you can take to reduce your risk of developing cancer:


  1. Never start smoking or stop smoking.
  2. Reduce your exposure to second-hand smoke.
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight.
  4. Eat the recommended daily number of fruit and vegetable servings.
  5. Exercise and get the recommended amount of cardio.
  6. Use broad spectrum sunscreen and limit the amount of time spent in the sun.
  7. Get the HPV vaccine.


The top two preventable causes of cancer are smoking and obesity.

Not all cancer diagnoses are preventable, however, and the top determinants of who gets cancer and who doesn't are age and genetics. Current estimates show that about half of all Canadians will get cancer at some point in their lives, and about one in four will die of cancer.

by Kristen Hovet