Typing symptoms into a search engine rarely ends a positive or accurate diagnosis, but despite the fact that most of us are aware of Dr Google’s fallibilities, many of us rely on the Internet for health information regardless, whether due to the fact that you can seek “knowledge” and advice at the touch of a button, or because many of us now face a fortnight’s wait for a GP appointment. Whatever the catalyst, falling into a scroll hole of supposed online enlightenment can lead to serious damage, and while there is of course accurate health information available from official and respected sources, it can be all too easy to fall for “fake news” in the health sphere, and there’s possibly no more vulnerable Internet user than the cancer patient.
To tackle cancer myths online, Macmillan Cancer Support has appointed digital nurse specialist Ellen McPake to provide clear information for cancer sufferers, family, friends and the general public. Seeing as 42 per cent of cancer sufferers look up their condition on the Internet according to Macmillan Cancer Support, and many ‘shut down’ in doctor’s appointments due to shock or fear, McPake wants to create a supportive and science-based space on the Internet, where the likes of the following simply won’t fly. Here are some of the false claims made about cancer that have been reported to the Macmillan support line in the past, and the spurious theories that McPake wants to debunk, stat:
Sugar causes cancer
Ellen has reported many cancer sufferers attempting to completely cut sugar out of their diets in the belief that sugar is directly linked to disease, however, while sugar is a leading cause of obesity , there is no evidence to suggest that sugar causes cancer to “grow”. Omitting sugar from the diet is likely to cause more stress for a cancer sufferer, as it’s a difficult feat, and fears that sugar speeds the onset of cancer need to be quashed according to Macmillan Cancer Support.
Vitamin C can cure cancer
While getting a daily hit of vitamin C is undoubtedly beneficial to our health, a Berocca or similar is most definitely not a cancer cure. Ellen relays that some private clinics offer ‘vitamin C treatment’, with no scientifically proven benefit and at great expense to sufferers and their families.
Sodium bicarbonate can rival chemotherapy or radiotherapy
Some sufferers have been led to believe that IV delivery of sodium bicarbonate is a ‘natural’ and less damaging alternative to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Speaking to the BBC, Ellen disparages this one:
“For some people it can be quite dangerous - it affects their kidneys and makes them feel quite unwell.”
Even drinking bicarbonate of soda has been promoted online as an anti-cancer tonic. Have none of it, and don’t believe the rumours than chemotherapy is more harmful than cancer itself (another common myth doing the rounds according to Macmillan Cancer Support).
Cancer is an ‘elderly’ disease
Breast cancer sufferer Kris Hallenga of Coppafeel has done much to eradicate the notion that cancer is a disease of the old (she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at the age of 23), but Ellen underlines that, while half of all cancer cases in the UK occur in patients over the age of 70, cancer rates among the young population are growing at a much faster rate.
Coffee enemas can treat cancer
Another case of a bogus treatment doing more harm than good, both to patients’ wellbeing and wallets. Coffee enemas have been promoted as “cleansing”, with the power to “heal at the site of disease” (supposedly the bowel), but risks include serious infection, constipation and even death. Ellen has encountered patients travelling hundreds of miles and spending huge sums on “cures” such as this that cause further damage and misery, and are downright dangerous.
Cancer is caused by modern lifestyles
While the rise in pollution, soaring obesity levels and sedentary lifestyles have been blamed for contributing to a rise in disease across the board, cancer is not a “new” disease by any means, as Ellen explains:
“There is the idea that it's a man-made modern disease, but it isn't - it's been found in Egyptian mummies."
I happened to meet the first Egyptian mummy identified as having suffered from prostate cancer this summer in a museum in Lisbon, and at over 2000 years old, it’s certain that cancer isn’t a modern curse that we’re inflicting on ourselves. Cancer sufferers deserve trusted, accurate information, support and tailored, medically appropriate treatment plans, not scare stories, barefaced lies and shameless money making schemes that put lives and livelihoods in danger. Here’s to a more responsible Dr Google.
Ellen McPake will be solely dedicated to answering questions from people affected by cancer online, on Macmillan’s social media platforms and the charity’s online community .
Follow Macmillan Cancer Support on Twitter @macmillancancer