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  Sep 29, 2016

By Ms. Benda N. Kithaka

It is not true that cancer is contagious, even though some infectious viruses such as Hepatitis B or C increases the risk of getting liver cancer.

Since cancer has become very common nowadays, it’s also becoming a common point of conversation. You will have heard some things about cancer from others that sometimes leaves you wondering what is true and what is not. Some of it can be outright misleading, shared in good faith, with the news bearer hoping to help you with knowledge to help you beat cancer.

Myths and misconceptions about cancer can cause unnecessary worries to the recipient. Wrong information may even affect the way one responds or reacts to a diagnosis of the disease. It is therefore important to debunk some common cancer myths. See below:


FACT: According to WHO, about a third of all cancers can be prevented, and another 1/3 can be cured if they are detected and treated early. Therefore, at least 66% of cancers can be beaten through prevention, early detection and timely treatment. That is why self-awareness, regular health check-ups and screenings are important. People with certain cancers, like cervical, breast and prostate cancers, live on for years after their cancer is diagnosed and treated. New cancer treatment options also mean that more people with advanced cancers can live longer. So to debunk this myth, let’s help people beat the fear of death and get screened early.


FACT: You cannot catch cancer from someone who has it. Spending time with a loved one who has cancer will not cause you to get it too. That is the truth. Cancer patients need more hugs, not shrugs. We also need to know that although cancer itself does not spread from person to person, certain viruses can increase your risk of getting cancer. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is passed on through intercourse. This infection has been found to increase the risk of a woman getting cervical cancer. Hepatitis B or C also increases the risk of getting liver cancer, and is passed on through shared needles or exchange of body fluids. Creating awareness and prevention of these infectious viruses could increase prevention of these cancers.


FACT: Cancer is caused by mutations that occur within the cells. Some genetic mutations can be inherited from our parents, and so a strong family history of cancer puts one at a higher risk of developing it. However, gene mutations can also occur from factors such as exposure to viruses such as HPV or Hepatitis B or C, smoking, radiation, other cancer-causing substances, and even environmental degradation. Other risk factors such as obesity and age can also increase ones risk of developing cancer. Let people know that a strong family history of cancer puts one at a higher risk of developing it, but does not imply you will definitely get cancer later in life.


FACT: Besides coping with the reality of a cancer diagnosis for a loved one, families also worry about treatment costs, fearing that a cancer diagnosis will bankrupt them. We need to stop this fear because, cancer treatment costs are highly dependent on the body site it is affecting, the stage the cancer is discovered, which facility a person seeks treatment, and what procedures the oncologist and doctor panel will prescribe as the best way to manage and treat the disease. Discovered early, treatment of precancerous lesions of the cervix may cost less than Kshs. 10,000/-.


FACT: There are over 200 different types of cancers. Cancer happens when abnormal cells divide in an uncontrolled way, and is often named based on where this abnormal cell multiplication started. Therefore cervical cancer starts when cells in the cervix change abnormally and multiply faster, becoming cancer of the cervix; breast tissue multiplying abnormally forms a lump, which becomes a tumour and is called cancer of the breast. Some cancers may eventually spread into other tissues.

Cancers are also divided into groups according to the type of cell they start from. They include:

  1. Carcinomas – a cancer arising in the epithelial tissue of the skin or of the lining of the internal organs.
  2. Lymphomas- cancer of the lymph nodes.
  3. Leukaemias – cancer found in the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs.
  4. Brain tumours – a cancer that starts initially in the brain tissue.
  5. Sarcomas – a malignant tumour of connective or other nonepithelial tissue.

Other myths are that cancer is caused by witchcraft, which is not true, or that cancer has no cure, again not true because with early detection and timely treatment, we can beat some cancers, and better manage others.

These are just a few of the cancer myths that we want to help our communities debunk. Just as we have more than 200 different types cancers, there are many myths out there.

Self-awareness and self-care that starts from knowing what is normal with your body, and seeking timely medical attention when one notices anything abnormal, will help us prevent cancer or discover it sooner, increasing the chances of recovery and reducing the cost of treatment.

If diagnosed with cancer, one is likely to experience many different emotions and even have certain reactions. Denial, sadness, anger, fear or discouragement are just a few of these. Even the family members go through these set of emotions, because a cancer diagnosis affects us all as a community. Helping cancer patients cope better with the cancer diagnosis or side effects of treatment through any form of support is critical to their healing and our communal well being. Above all, we have to remember, man treats and God heals. Therefore, let us have conversations that have truths in them, and hopefully we can help each other beat cancer sooner.

About Writer

Ms. Benda N. Kithaka is a Co-Founder and Board Chair of Women 4 Cancer Early Detection and Treatment. A Kenyan NGO helping Kenyans beat cancer sooner. Read more about us on

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