Myths About Cancer Risk Abound

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Thursday, July 26, 2007; 12:00 AM

THURSDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- Misconceptions about cancer are rampant among Americans, a new study finds, including the mistaken notions that cancer deaths are on the rise and that air pollution is a greater cancer risk than smoking.

"A substantial proportion of people have some inaccurate beliefs about cancer risk," said lead researcher Kevin Stein, the director of the Behavioral Research Center at the American Cancer Society.

These misconceptions "can affect their health-related behaviors," he added. For example, he said, people might smoke more if they believe smoking is less harmful than city air.

"We want to be sure that people understand what risk factors are real and what are not real," Stein said.

The report appears in the September 1 issue ofCancer.

In the study, Stein's team asked 957 adults whether or not they agreed with 12 common cancer myths.

About two-thirds (67.7 percent) said the risk of dying from cancer was increasing -- even though statistics show that the five-year cancer survival rate has been steadily improving for the last 30 years.

Almost 39 percent agreed with the myth that living in a polluted city puts a person at a higher risk of developing lung cancer than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day would.

"If people believe that the risk of cancer is higher from pollution than from smoking they may be more likely to engage in risky behavior," Stein said.

Many people also believed that low-tar cigarettes are less likely to cause lung cancer than regular cigarettes, Stein noted.

"Really, there is no evidence for that," he said.

In addition, almost 30 percent of the respondents thought electronic devices, such a cell phones, can cause cancer (studies have shown there is no effect).

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