7 Myths About the Most Common Cancer in Women

Keck Medicine of USC
Univeristy of Southern California
Keck Medicine of USC
Keck Medicine of USC
Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area.

7 Myths About the Most Common Cancer in Women

Surprisingly, breast cancer isn’t the number one cause of cancer death in women.

Did you know that lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in women?

Lung cancer affects both men and women — and it accounts for more deaths than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. To determine who is at risk and why, we spoke with Jorge Nieva, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, to learn about the common misconceptions about lung cancer.

Myth 1: A diagnosis of lung cancer is fatal.

The misconception is that everybody with lung cancer dies. The landscape is changing, and now we are seeing survival rates increase. This is due to a new treatment called immunotherapy, wherein patients receive intravenous drugs with limited side effects that are typically associated with chemotherapy. About 20% to 25% of Keck Medicine of USC lung patients are long-term survivors because of this new therapy.

Myth 2: Lung cancer is a self-inflicted disease caused by smoking.

“The most common misconception is that lung cancer is a disease of smokers,” Nieva says. While smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer, there are causes other than smoking. In fact, one-third of lung cancer patients at our medical center are lifelong nonsmokers. A DNA mutation of a lung cancer cell can lead to the formation of a tumor, which leads to cancer. It can be as simple as bad luck.

Myth 3: There is no benefit to kicking the smoking habit now.

Smoking can lead to lung cancer, and stopping won’t prevent any damage already done. However, kicking the habit now can increase the effectiveness of treatment and improve the success rate of surgery, if you do get lung cancer.

Myth 4: Screening for lung cancer is unreliable and a waste of time.

Early detection and screening improve overall survival rates and save lives. “The data that supports lung cancer screening is better than the data that exists for mammography, colonoscopy, prostate exams and prostate-specific antigen testing,” says Nieva. “It’s the only one that’s been demonstrated to improve overall survival in the screened population; it’s the highest level of evidence available.” Current and former smokers, between the ages of 55 to 80, with a history of smoking 30 packs or more a year, should be screened, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Myth 5: There isn’t a treatment for lung cancer.

Surgery, radiation therapy, drug therapy and clinical trials are all options for treating lung cancer. Immunotherapy is a recent chemistry-based treatment that is seeing a high rate of success.

Myth 6: Reducing my sugar intake slows the spread of cancer.

The amount of sugar in the bloodstream is controlled by the pancreas and doesn’t change. So, no, you can’t change the amount of sugar to which the cancer is exposed. “If you think that you can affect your blood sugar by how much sugar you’re eating, or that you can affect your cancer’s sugar exposure by what you eat, that’s just wrong,” Nieva explains.

Myth 7: Changing my pH values will help me fight cancer.

Similar to sugar, you can’t change your kidney and lungs’ control of alkaline levels, or pH, the measure of acidity in our bodies.

For 40 years, the National Cancer Institute has recognized USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center as one of the leading comprehensive cancers centers in the country.

by Heidi Tyline King

Visit one of the world-renowned specialists at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine to learn more about screenings and how they might benefit you. If you are in the Los Angeles area, make an appointment, by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting https://cancer.keckmedicine.org/lungscreening/.