By Dr. Anthony Policastro

May is National Cancer Research month. That means it is a good time to review some common misconceptions about cancer.

Some people consider cancer “The Big C”. The title refers to the fact that cancer carries a high mortality.

That is true for some types of cancer. For example pancreatic cancer is deadly. Only about 1 percent of individuals become cancer survivors.

However the cure rate for testicular cancer is 98 percent. As a matter of fact the five-year survival rate for all cancers currently stands at about 67 percent.

Some people think that cancer might be contagious. There are some forms in animals that are contagious. However, that is not the case in humans.

Some viruses can cause cancer. The best example of that is liver cancer from Hepatitis C. However, while the Hepatitis C virus is contagious, the cancer is not.

Some people are afraid that cell phones can cause cancer. They think that it is because they emit radiation like X-rays.

The radiation from X-rays can cause cancer. However, it is ionizing radiation. Cell phone radiation is non-ionizing. Therefore, it does not carry the same risk.

One of the older misconceptions is that surgery causes cancer to spread. My father was a big believer in this. He felt that providing oxygen to the cancer made it worse. There is no evidence that this is true.

Some cancer patients think that natural remedies can cure cancer. Many natural remedies can help to relieve the stress caused by cancer.

However, to this point no natural remedies have proven to be effective.

Other common substances have been blamed to be a cause of cancer. They include sugar. They include artificial sweeteners. They include deodorant. They include hair dye.

There is no real evidence that any of these cause cancer under normal usage.

Excessive usage can be an issue. Those instances tend to occur in individuals who have an occupation in that field.

For example hairdressers who handle a lot of hair dye have an increased risk of bladder cancer. Professional gardeners who use a lot of Round Up have an excess number of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Asbestos workers have a high incidence of lung cancer.

Thus, there are a lot of rumors about cancer. Most of the time, they are just rumors and nothing more. The best place to get information is from medical sources. The worst place to get information is on social media. Anyone with any kind of thought can post it like it is the gospel truth.

As we head into National Cancer Research month it is important to remember that it is through ongoing research that we can come up with the right answers to those misconceptions.

COVID-19 Update

Total number of new cases continues to decrease. Nationally the weekly total has dropped from 213,000 to 180,000. In Sussex County the weekly totals have stayed about steady with 172 last week and 167 this week.

Nationally 49 percent of the population has had the first dose with 39 percent fully immunized. In Delaware 53 percent of the population has had the first dose and 41 percent are fully immunized. Numbers continue to increase by about 2 percent per week.

To this point 85 percent of individuals 65 and older have received at least one dose. The number is 55 percent for those between 18 and 64.

And 19 percent of adolescents between 12 and 17 have received at least one dose. The bottom line is that the vaccine naysayers are becoming a smaller and smaller group every week.

About 8.2 percent of individuals over age 65 still smoke cigarettes. Alcoholism kills about 7.4 percent of individuals each year. So there is a small group of individuals at this age that are risk takers. It looks like COVID vaccine refusal is just part of that risk taking.

As the number of cases continue to decrease people start to wonder when will they get to zero. The most likely answer is probably never.

You may remember that December through February were particularly bad months. It is likely that the virus will surge to some degree during that same period this year. The only real question is what will that surge look like.

It is likely to be less than last year. If that happens we should see subsequent years also show lower numbers each year. However, it is not likely to every go away completely. It just will have trouble finding non-immune people to infect.

The purpose of vaccine is twofold. One is to protect the individual. The other is to protect other members of society by creating herd immunity. You would think that keeping others from dying is enough incentive for getting the vaccine. That is apparently not the case.

Ohio created a lottery. They are going to have 5 drawings of $1 million each for vaccinated individuals. They announced it on May 12th.

From May 14th – 17th immunization rates jumped 28 percent over the previous few days. I guess winning a million dollars is more important than keeping other humans from dying of COVID-19. Sometimes people’s priorities amaze me.

There is a question about whether children under age 12 should wear masks. If they have underlying health issues the answer is yes. If they do not, the infection is usually mild in this age group.

A good rule of thumb might be to use a mask on children under age 12 when around a group of strangers who might not yet be vaccinated.

My daughter asked when Moderna will be approved for adolescents like Pfizer has been. Given their current projected timetable, it is likely to be sometime in August.

As far as younger children, studies by both Moderna and Pfizer are in progress. They both began in March 2021. They are studying children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years of age.

One problem is that they need to find the lowest dose of vaccine that is effective so they will be trying multiple different doses. Each dose trial will require a placebo group. Infections are more likely to be asymptomatic in this age group. 

Therefore, waiting to find enough individuals who test positive will take time.

It is possible that the trials will show that side effects of the vaccine are worse than the effects of COVID itself. So ultimately it may not be recommended.

By that time we will have the winter of 2022 and maybe even the winter of 2023 to see if there is a viral surge as mentioned above. The bottom line is that we may never need to use the vaccine in this age group.

Some of you may remember back in 2015 when I had an autoimmune reaction. My immune system thought my blood clotting cells were pneumonia cells and attacked them. It looks like the clotting issues with some of the COVID-19 vaccines may also be an autoimmune reaction. In this case the body overreacts to the adenovirus carrier in the vaccine. The result is a clotting cascade.