Little known facts about cancer

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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Dr. Roald Hempling, the Director of Oncology Services at WellSpan Health in York, PA, weighs in on some of the myths surrounding breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer.

The #1 myth today?  Dr. Hempling says that it’s believing that cancer is a death sentence.  More people than ever are successfully being treated for cancer, and surviving it.

Are night-shift workers at higher risk for cancer?  How about people who take over 25 antibiotics over the course of 15 years?

These and other questions answers in the conversation below.

breast-cancer-ribbonBreast Cancer:

It is true that breast cancer is highest in developed countries and lowest in less developed countries.  This could be due to the amount of industrialization.  However, people in developed countries have a longer life expectancy, and with age, comes an increased cancer risk.

The “Western Diet, high in fat and sugar may also be a contributing factor in the higher rates of cancer and other malignancies.

The biggest risk for getting breast cancer is age- getting older increases risk and lowers the body’s ability to ward off abnormal cell growth.  But what  about the 3-year old girl who was diagnosed with breast cancer?  Dr. Hempling simply says, “Cancer knows no rules.”

It is true that more Caucasian women receive a breast cancer diagnosis than African American women, but more Africa American women die of the disease.  Dr. Hempling is hopeful about the fact that better screening methods have decreased the number of deaths due to breast cancer overall.

Does breastfeeding lower risk for breast cancer?  This is true, although there is not much known about why this decreases risk.

Lung Cancer:

Lung cancer accounts for 28% of cancer deaths each year in the US, that’s 160,000 deaths.  So, why doesn’t it receive more research funds than it does?  Dr. Hempling talks about the exciting advances in screening methods for lung cancer and that catching it early is crucial in fighting this disease.  

The earlier it is found, the more effective treatment will be.  Unfortunately, there are not many symptoms and usually by the time a person recognizes that something is wrong, it has spread throughout the body.


Like lung cancer, ovarian and colon cancer are asymptomatic until its spread.  To this he says that being aware of your body and any changes is very important.  And, he tells physicians to really pay attention to what their patients are telling them.

If you stop smoking, it is likely to save your life.  Deaths from lung cancer are decreasing, mainly because of the decreased use of tobacco.  Many aren’t starting in the first place.

Prostate Cancer:

Rates for prostate cancer are higher in black men than other groups.  Is this because of higher testosterone levels?  Dr. Hemping says that that may be a sound reason, but there is not much evidence as to why this is the case.

He says that it’s key to know your family history as men with three relatives that have cancer are 10 times more at risk for prostate cancer.  This is also important for people with a history of breast and ovarian cancer.  It is especially difficult for adopted people because they may not have access to this information.  Also, men with a family history of breast cancer are at higher risk for prostate cancer.

He says that many people don’t like to discuss family history of disease, but it could be a life-saver.  He points to Gilda Radner as an example of someone who had a family history of ovarian cancer, but was never told the information until it was too late.
Watchful waiting may be a good option for those men diagnosed with a non-aggressive form of prostate cancer.  Carefully monitoring and observing may be an appropriate option in these cases.

sunscreenSkin Cancer:

Skin cancer is the #1 diagnosed cancer type.  Despite what we know about protecting ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays, there has been a 350% increase in cases since 1994.  Dr. Hempling says that we’re still attracted to the tan images in the media, and until that changes, he doesn’t see people wanting to make better choices for themselves.

Is sunscreen giving us a false sense of protection?  Dr. Hempling suggests that people follow the “slip, slap, slop” rule.  Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, slop on sunscreen.  Even on a cloudy day and in the winter months, you’ll need more than sunscreen to protect from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays that can cause skin damage and cancer.

To hear more cancer myths, click here.

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