Study: Many Americans Still Believe Cancer Myths

A survey shows many Americans -- particularly men -- believe cancer myths.

ByABC News
July 26, 2007, 11:41 AM

July 26, 2007 — -- Is the risk of dying of cancer in the United States increasing? Can cell phones cause cancer?

The fact that many Americans answered questions like these wrong -- the answer to both is no -- is evidence that many fall victim to prevailing myths about cancer, according to new research.

The study, released Thursday in the online version of the journal Cancer, found that the segment of the population that suffers from cancer the most -- older, less educated, lower income individuals -- were also the most likely to be misinformed about cancer risk. Men were also more likely to fall prey to the falsehoods.

"There's good news and bad news in the study," said lead author Kevin Stein, director of quality of life research for the American Cancer Society (ACS) Behavioral Research Center.

"The good news is that we found, overall, people were pretty accurate," he said. "On average, people endorsed only three of the 12 misconceptions.

"The bad news is that the amount of people who believe certain misconceptions was alarmingly high."

Researchers from the ACS conducted telephone interviews with 957 people who had no history of cancer. They asked the participants to evaluate 12 incorrect statements about cancer, including "underwire bras can cause breast cancer" and "living in a polluted city is a greater risk for lung cancer than smoking a pack of cigarettes per day."

The most prevalent myth concerned the widespread perception that the risk of dying of cancer is on the rise.

While 67 percent of the participants said this belief was true, cancer survival rates have actually improved steadily over the last three decades.

"There are a lot of discussions of cancer deaths in the media, and high-profile cancer cases like Tony Snow or Elizabeth Edwards," said Stein. "That type of coverage increases the public's perception of cancer risk."

The ACS estimates that in 2006 approximately 1.4 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer and 565,000 died of the disease -- a drop in overall deaths as well as mortality rate.