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There are many myths surrounding causes and cures for cancer. We’ve been told that when people are diagnosed they are often overwhelmed with information from well-meaning friends and family about what they should be trying to do.

Tenovus Cancer Care supported a project called Unique You at Cardiff University which looked at some of the myths surrounding cancer to try and understand the science behind them. Please click on the headlines to find out more about what the science tells us.

We hope that sharing these will help reduce the misinformation surrounding cancer. If you hear any unusual or confusing headlines around causes or cures for cancer, please let us know and we’ll do our best to clarify what the evidence is. Please email

There is no reliable evidence from human studies that herbal remedies, such as flower, plant or herb therapies can treat, prevent or cure any type of cancer [1], [2].

A study of 840 cancer patients found that those people who initially chose alternative medicines for the treatment of curable cancer instead of conventional cancer treatment were rare, but they had significantly worse survival [3].

Some alternative medicine can help with symptoms. While they will not treat or cure cancer, techniques such as acupuncture, yoga and meditation can help with pain, anxiety and quality of life [4].

This is an article from the Guardian, published in 2018, claiming that exposure to radiation from mobile phones could increase chances of cancer. The article opens with information from an unpublished scientific report that suggests that there was an increased risk of some cancers in mice exposed to mobile phone radiation [1].

In response to the overall claim of this article, all evidence suggests that there is no link between using mobiles phones and cancer [2]

The type of radiation produced by mobile phones is far too weak to actually damage DNA – the key step of cancer. Therefore, it is a myth that mobile phone use causes cancer [3].

This article was referring to research that looked at how much processed meat individuals ate and their bowel cancer risk [1].

They took data from over 500,000 people and found that 2,609 people developed bowel cancer. They looked at these people’s diet and found that the more red or processed meat eaten each day, the greater the chance of being diagnosed with bowel cancer. 

For example, 40 out of 10,000 individuals who ate the equivalent of a slice of ham each day were diagnosed with bowel cancer. This increased to 48 out of 10,000 individuals who ate the equivalent of 4oz of sirloin each day.

(They also found that eating fibre from bread and cereals had a slightly lower risk of bowel cancer!)

CRUK predict that 5,400 of the 41,804 cases of bowel cancer seen each year could be prevented if people did not eat processed meat at all. For comparison, smoking is predicted to cause 54,300 cases of cancer every year [2].

This is an article based on a scientific report that claimed there was a link between consuming food and drink that contained artificial sweeteners and cancer [1].

This study, published in 2022, reports that people that consume artificial sweeteners are 13% more likely to develop cancer in their lifetime. However, within the news article, other experts state that the evidence gathered is not sufficient enough to be able to draw conclusions.

In addition, multiple studies have investigated the hypothesis that artificial sweeteners could cause people to develop cancer. There has been no proof that this is the case [2].

Cancer Research states that 'your overall diet is more important than individual ingredients or food for reducing your cancer risk’ [3].

This is an article from BBC news, published in 2019, reporting on concerns that 5G exposure could increase chances of health conditions including cancer. 

In response to the overall claim of this article, all evidence currently suggests that there is no link between using 5G mobile signals and cancer [1]

The type of radiation produced by 5G is far too weak to actually damage DNA – the key step of cancer. Therefore, the chance of exposure leading to an increased risk of cancer is impossible.

This headline is from a study which found that banning sunbeds would lower incidence and deaths from melanoma (a type of skin cancer) [1].

Our age, genetics and exposure to risk factors (such as UV radiation) combine to influence our chances of developing melanoma.  Cancer Research UK estimate that as many as 86% of UK melanoma cases are caused by overexposure to UV radiation [2].

Myths remains around sunbed use, for example that sunbeds don’t burn the skin and therefore don’t cause skin damage.  The reality is that UV radiation from sunbeds damages DNA before the visible signs of burning appear.  This skin damage can happen at any age, however using a sunbed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 60% [3].

Researchers compared the white blood cells of healthy adult vapers, exclusive cigarette smokers and non-users of either product. They found that cells were affected by both vaping and smoking, but the changes to gene function seen smokers were both more numerous and more extreme than those seen in people who only used vaping products [1].

Current evidence is that despite e-cigarette liquids containing some harmful chemicals, vaping is far less harmful than smoking tobacco.  There is also currently no evidence that exhaled vapour is passively harmful to others, unlike second hand smoke [2].

While evidence suggests e-cigarettes may be useful tools in helping smokers quit smoking, they are not currently made to medicine standard and may still be more harmful than existing nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum [3].

E-cigarettes are relatively new products, and their safety is an area of ongoing research.  Despite evidence of e-cigarettes being less harmful than smoking tobacco, any long-term health effects are still unknown [4].

This article states that drinking alcohol is linked to cancers of the breast, mouth, bowel, throat and liver. Scientific evidence supports this statement [1].

A 2014 concluded that alcohol consumption is strongly linked to the seven types of cancer mentioned in the Sky News article and there is growing evidence that alcohol consumption could be linked to others cancers too [2].

Drinkaware say that 3-4 out of every 100 cases of cancer in the UK are caused by alcohol consumption. Scientists are unclear exactly how alcohol causes cancer. It is thought that as the body breaks down alcohol, acetaldehyde is produced and this damages your DNA, causing cancer cells to form [3].

Cancer Research UK point out that all types of alcohol and that all drinking patterns increase your cancer risk. The most important factor is the amount of alcohol you drink [4]. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your cancer risk!

Many members of the public are concerned about the link between cancer and stress. Scientific evidence tells us that there is no link! This New York Times article includes a study on the link between breast cancer (a very common form of cancer both in the US and UK) and self-reported stress [1] , [2]. The conclusion of this article is that there is no link between stress and breast cancer [2].

Later studies have also emphasised the lack of evidence between stress and cancer. A 2013 UK study on the link between work stress and colorectal, breast, lung and prostate cancers found no proof that work stress is a risk factor for common cancers [3].

The evidence seems clear that stress does not cause cancer but they point out that during periods of stress, many people struggle to be healthy (for example they smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol), which can increase your cancer risk [4].

According to the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, getting more physical activity is associated with a lower risk for several types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colon, endometrium, and possibly pancreatic cancer [1].

Keeping active can help you lose weight or keep a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of 13 different types of cancer [2].

And if you’re exercising a lot, it can help prevent breast and bowel cancer.

Cancer patients who exercise have better treatment outcomes and survival rates [3].

New guidelines conclude doctors should recommend aerobic workouts to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy.

Yes, being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting cancer.

Awareness campaigns about the connection between obesity and cancer have been seen as “fat-shaming”.

The uncomfortable truth is, however, that evidence shows obesity is a clear risk factor for cancer [1]. The link between weight and cancer has been associated with 11 out of 36 cancers and their subtypes (cancers of the digestive organs, and women's hormone-related cancers) supported by strong evidence [2].

You may be surprised to learn that being overweight or having obesity is linked with a higher risk of getting 13 types of cancer [3].

Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK. The biologically active components in marijuana are called cannabinoids. It is important to know that marijuana can have different effects depending on the strain used as different types of marijuana plant will have varying amounts of cannabinoids.

While some people report that cannabis has helped them with nausea and cancer-related pain, there is limited scientific evidence to support this. However, some cannabis products are available on prescription. For example, Nabilone is a man-made cannabinoid drug.  If standard anti-nausea medication has not worked, then nabilone is licensed by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for treating severe sickness from chemotherapy [1].

Sometimes patients can get access to cannabinoids through joining a clinical trial. This can give access to new drugs in a monitored environment. You could consult with your cancer specialist to see if you are eligible to join a trial.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is a constituent of the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it is not responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis. There is scientific interest in CBD as a potential anti-cancer agent and it has been tested on cells in the laboratory. However, there is no robust evidence that CBD can effectively and safely treat cancer.

There is also the thought that CBD might help patients manage their symptoms, such as nausea, pain or depression. Many studies have investigated THC rather than CBD alone, so evidence is limited on the effectiveness of CBD in controlling symptoms and side effects.  More research is needed on whether CBD-products can be effective in reducing nausea and pain [2], while there are no published randomised controlled trials looking at the effect of CBD on depression.

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010