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Media Release

From dogs sniffing cancer to alternative therapies Cancer Council bust the myths

4 February 2021

Cancer Council data shows common cancer myths:

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

Cancer Council is encouraging Australians to seek health information from credible sources this World Cancer Day (4 Feb) with new research showing common cancer myths are rife amongst Australians.

The research surveyed 1,000 Australians to form a nationally representative sample and found some alarming and potentially dangerous myths about cancer with Megan Varlow, Director of Cancer Control Policy and Cancer Council Australia explaining, “People affected by cancer are particularly vulnerable and we know that misinformation in cancer is rife.

“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.

“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 Australia’s national cancer – 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. 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.”

When examining behaviours, the 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 Australia (12%) of Australians 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.”

Cancer Council’s website cancer.org.au/iheard provides information about common myths and their 13 11 20 information and support line is available to help those affected by cancer and their loved one.

“As for animals being able to sniff out cancer, while two in three of Australians (67%) agreed they could, studies have so far been limited and you’re best to seek the advice of your doctor rather than your furry friend if you’re concerned,” Ms Varlow concluded.


Media Enquiries
Please contact Tegan Brown in the Cancer Council Australia media team on (02) 8063 4109 or email media@cancer.org.au
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