Eight misconceptions about cancer, put to the test

Could a little alcohol a day lower cancer risk? Is it safe to smoke four or five cigarettes a day? No wonder your answers to these questions are not very clear. Take, for example, the Barometer of the National Cancer Institute (INCa), which surveyed nearly 5,000 French people aged 15 to 85 on cancer risk factors. The results of the survey, released Monday, January 30, reveal stubborn preconceived notions. Here are eight comments.

“You have to smoke at least twenty cigarettes a day to be at risk of cancer”

this is not right

One in two smokers underestimate the risks associated with their tobacco consumption. Especially with regard to risk thresholds, the number of cigarettes smoked per day or the number of years of smoking that can cause cancer.

Thus, smokers mistakenly believed that the risk of developing tobacco-related cancers was only present after smoking 9.2 cigarettes per day and 13.4 years of smoking. More than one-fifth (21.2%) of the smokers even believed that smoking more than 20 cigarettes a day has the risk of developing cancer.

However, the French Public Health Service (SPF) recalls that there is no threshold below which the risk of lung cancer or cardiovascular disease is zero. Light smokers are not immune to these risks, either.According to a 2005 study published in the British Journal tobacco control, smoking one to four cigarettes per day was associated with a threefold higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. Deaths from lung cancer are multiplied by 2.79 for men and 5.03 for women. 50% increased risk of all-cause mortality.

“Smokers inhale toxic products every day. You may reduce your consumption and many times, need the same amount of nicotine, you will smoke more cigarettesAdds Anne-Laurence Le Faou, addiction specialist at the Georges-Pompidou European Hospital and president of the French Tobacco Association.

“Heavy smoking is more dangerous than long-term smoking”

this is not right

Six in 10, whether they smoked or not, believed that the number of cigarettes they smoked per day was more dangerous than the length of time they smoked. However, according to INCa and SPF, “Long-term exposure to carcinogens in tobacco smoke far more dangerous”Therefore, when the smoking time is multiplied by two, the risk of cancer is multiplied by twenty. Doubling the daily tobacco consumption doubles the risk of cancer.The sooner we stop the better, says the study, considering it “It’s never too late to give up”.

“Participating in Physical Activity Clears Lungs of Tobacco”

this is not right

More than half of respondents agree with such misconceptions “Exercise cleans the lungs of tobacco”. Again, this idea is completely wrong. “Exercise has no restorative effect on the lungs”Answer M.I Faou. Because even though we play sports, “Tobacco smoke, which attacks the respiratory tract every day, contains many toxic substances that attack the walls of the respiratory tree. It destroys the vibrating cilia, which eliminates these inhaled toxins”.

this “Direct attack” Respiratory tract explanation explains occurrence of smokers “Infectious inflammatory diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer, especially lung cancer”。 In addition, exercise cannot cure the daily discomfort caused by exercise. “Cough and Shortness of Breath Associated with Smoking”she added. “Pollution of the lungs, blood vessels and heart, especially from tar, cannot be reversed by physical activity”, adds Marion Adler, tobacco specialist at the Antoine-Béclère Hospital (AP-HP).She said the only way is “clean” His lungs are unaffected by tobacco, for “Stop Smoking”.

“E-cigarettes are more harmful than traditional cigarettes”

It’s wrong (but not completely harmless)

More than one in two French people (52.9%) believe that e-cigarettes are as harmful or more harmful than tobacco cigarettes. They also mostly believed (82.7%) that the nicotine it contained caused cancer.

E-cigarettes are a “no doubt” Less harmful than cigarettes.Carbon monoxide is one of the main harmful elements associated with cigarettes “From Burning” its. “This kind of burning phenomenon is not found in our electronic cigarettes”he explained. “Currently available elements do not demonstrate a link between e-cigarettes and cancer risk.he continued. That doesn’t mean it’s harmless, either. »


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“The idea that the poison in tobacco is nicotine is totally wrong. It’s not toxic, but it’s addictive. It’s not bad for the heart or lungs, and it doesn’t cause cancer, Add MI Adler. Also because it is not toxic to health, it can be used in people suffering from any disease, including lung cancer.she explained.

If health experts advise non-smokers not to use e-cigarettes, “However, it can keep smokers feeling pleasurable while quitting”continues tobacco experts, especially in addition to “Nicotine Replacement” so as not to feel the effects of lack.However, she must “Keep the first step, because the goal is to quit smoking completely”. For the 30% of vapers who use e-cigarettes, the goal is to reduce their cigarette consumption.

Read our survey: Articles reserved for our subscribers Are e-cigarettes safe?Questions about the “mystery epidemic”

“Drinking a little alcohol may lower cancer risk”

it has never been proven

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed wrongly believed that drinking a little alcohol would lower their cancer risk more than not drinking at all. Only one in two respondents said drinking a glass of alcohol a day increased their cancer risk.

So, can wine prevent cancer? Mickael Naassila, president of the French Society of Alcoholism (SFA), replied that there were no studies proving the link. “The more you drink, the greater your risk of cancer. But even at low levels of consumption, the risk of some cancers increases, Continue to teach. Therefore, drinking one cup a day increases the risk of breast cancer. »

“There is no safe amount of alcohol for your health and any alcohol consumption has risks”, concluded Mr Naassila.The researchers compared these received wine ideas with “Old Beliefs” lend him “Antioxidant Properties”and point to “Biased Research” apply a ‘poor methodology’. “One study claimed that resveratrol [un antioxydant naturel] Existing in red wine can prevent 1 in 100,000 cancers. I don’t understand how we can see the protective effect there. You will have to drink a lot of red wine, so alcohol can cause cancer. »

According to him, the theory of cardiovascular benefits associated with drinking wine is also ” Invalid”. “Alcohol is a form of high blood pressure. It can induce heart rhythm disturbances and thus lead to atrial fibrillation”, He said. A recent US study on the subject bears this out.

“Stress can increase cancer risk”

it has never been proven

Nearly 8 in 10 French people think “Withstanding the Pressures of Modern Life” is a cancer risk factor. “Unable to express emotions” (43.90%), “Weakened by traumatic experiences” (68.10%) were also considered risk factors. With each edition of the Barometer, this view has grown stronger.

However, this link has never been confirmed. “Currently, we have no data proving a link between mood and cancer risk”explains Jérôme Foucaud of INCa.

“Sun’s UV rays are more harmful than artificial UV rays”

this is not right

Nine out of 10 declare a risk of cancer from sun exposure, but the French still lack information on this. For example, 20% believe that exposure to artificial UV rays is less harmful than exposure to sunlight. despite this, “Ultraviolet light, whether natural or man-made, is listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer”Recall the barometer.

“Ultraviolet rays play an important role in the development of skin cancer, cataracts and other eye diseases, and they reduce immune defenses”, details that in 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended an outright ban on sunbathing booths. and add: “There is no evidence that sunbeds of any kind are less harmful than natural exposure to the sun. »

“Epidemiological data suggest that a single lifetime exposure to artificial UV-emitting devices is associated with a 15% increased risk of skin melanoma”Add National Food Safety Authority (Anses).

“One application of sunscreen keeps you in the sun all day”

this is not right

Few of them believed it, yet 6.5% of people aged 15-75 who had never had cancer still believed that just one application of sunscreen was enough to keep them exposed to the sun all day without risk.

“The idea of ​​sun protection has emerged, but the proposed protection is not optimal”, analyzed by Jérôme Foucaud. In France, the perception of tanning remains fairly positive. despite this, “Tanned skin is just scarred skin”.

“Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from natural or artificial sources remains a leading cause of skin cancers, including melanoma, Remind SPF. 80,000 new additions per year [cas de] Skin cancer was diagnosed. »

When Should You Protect Yourself From UV Rays?

To limit UV exposure, INC recommends first wearing covering clothing, category 3 sunglasses and staying in the shade, especially between noon and 4pm. Also, reapply sunscreen with an index of 50 every two hours – don’t forget to renew it after swimming or exercising. But even a 50 index cream doesn’t filter 100% of UV rays, so it shouldn’t be an excuse for prolonged exposure. As for children under the age of 3, they should not be in the sun at all.

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