Cancer myths rife


Nearly half of Australians surveyed believe sunscreen contains chemicals that are bad for you, according to the Cancer Council

The Cancer Council is encouraging Australians to seek health information from credible sources after new research revealed common cancer myths are rife in the community.

A survey of 1,000 Australians, selected to form a nationally representative sample, found:

  • 2 in 3 or 67% agree that animals can sniff out cancer
  • 2 in 5 (40%) believe that alternative therapies can cure cancer
  • Nearly half (46%) believe sunscreen contains chemicals that are bad for you
  • 8% don’t realise you can get skin cancer even if you don’t burn

“People affected by cancer are particularly vulnerable and we know that misinformation in cancer is rife,” said Megan Varlow, Director of Cancer Control Policy at Cancer Council Australia.

“This is in part due to people looking to sell products or miracle cures but also due to misinformation filtering into the public sphere through unchecked sources like social media and the internet,” she said.

“Two in five Australians believed alternative therapies can cure cancer. One of the most misleading myths of modern medicine is that conventional cancer doctors reject ‘natural’ therapies in favour of artificial or ‘unnatural’ cancer treatments. This myth has contributed to the popularity of unproven, alternative cancer treatments.

“We’ve also seen a rise in companies touting ‘natural alternatives’ as safer when, in fact, we can be assured that any products that are available in Australia – from sunscreen to modern medicine – have met stringent guidelines to ensure they are safe and effective.”

Ms Varlow explained there were some concerning results about skin cancer.

“The survey found that almost one in 10 Australians don’t realise that you can get skin cancer even if you don’t burn, and nearly half of all Australians also mistakenly believe sunscreen contain chemicals that are bad for you,” she said.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, so to see these myths are so prevalent is concerning.

“In Australia, UV levels frequently reach extreme and sun damage can occur in just a few minutes, regardless of whether you burn so the message to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide is crucial for all of us.

“Sunscreens sold in Australia should be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration which means they have meet some of the most stringent criteria in the world to ensure they are safe and effective.

“Products that market themselves as a ‘safer’ alternative to a regular sunscreen may not have been tested by the TGA, so it is impossible to know if they are safe or provide the protection stated on the bottle, and therefore they may not be effective in preventing skin damage.”

The TGA has said it assesses the safety of ingredients used in sunscreen products before a product is released onto the market.

“Sunscreens must be manufactured by a TGA-approved manufacturing facility, and can only include TGA approved ingredients – each of which has been assessed for safety,” it says.

“Many Australians use sunscreen on a daily basis, generally over large areas of their body surface. Therefore, it is important that sunscreens used in Australia are safe, effective and of good quality.”

When examining behaviours, the Cancer Council survey found Australians were equally likely to have changed their behaviour based on something they read online (21.3%) as they were because of government information (22%).

Over one in 10 (12%) believe news they read on social media or articles on the internet are the most trustworthy sources of health information.

“Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and there can be an information overload. What is crucial is that we are seeking information from trusted sources like medical practitioners, the government or trusted charities and health organisations,” said Ms Varlow.

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1 Comment

  1. Anthony Zehetner
    11/02/2021

    I would be interested in the respondents mask-wearing rates and if they plan to receive the COVID19 vaccine? Too much medical misinformation around these days and given airtime despite supposedly higher education levels!

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