Fact Check: Do cancer therapies cause cancer?-thip

Quick Take

Several social media users have shared a video that claims cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy cause cancer. We fact-checked and found the claim has a missing context, hence Half True.

The Claim

A Facebook video claims radiation and chemotherapy actually cause cancer, whereas herbs cure cancer. The video has gathered 44.2K likes, 132 comments and 2.5K shares till we last checked. 

Fact Check

What is cancer?

Cancer is an umbrella term covering more than 100 diseases which spread through a single mechanism of uncontrolled cancer cell growth.  

How radiation and chemotherapy treat cancer?

Both radiation and chemotherapy pinpoint and kill cancer cells using different mechanisms. Surgical removal of tumour/cyst is often followed by radiation or chemotherapy, or both. 

Radiation therapy strikes cancer cells with high-energy beams of x-rays or protons. But chemotherapy drugs shrink the size to kill cancer. In general, both these therapies try to find and kill remaining cancer cells within the body that were not removed during the surgery. 

However, these therapies cannot differentiate between healthy and toxic cells. So, normal cells which are near cancer get damaged during the process. But most of them recover within a short span and go back to working normally.

Do cancer therapies cause cancer?

In a few cases. Both radiation and chemotherapy are considered safe with minor side effects. But they can relapse cancer or cause a new one. Both therapies target the body at the cellular level to impact the genetic material in one way or another. But the chance of cancer relapse or a new cancer is low. 

However, this fact has been misleadingly portrayed in the video using examples having no credible reference. Also, the video claimed to cure cancer through diet/herbs, which again is supported, with no credible reference. We found a few research papers that suggest diet can play a role in preventing cancer. We also found research papers that suggest herbs might play a role in treating cancer. However, we do not know much about whether diet or herbs can kill cancer cells or prevent the formation of newer ones. In the video, the speaker seemed to promote a herbal product.

We asked Dr Pallav Prajapati, Ayurveda Specialist, if diet/herbs can cure cancer completely. To this, he said, “In Ayurveda, not all cancer stages are completely curable. It is quite difficult to reverse or manage the cancer condition. In Ayurveda, early stages (sadhya awastha) of cancer can be managed with diet/herbs and lifestyle modifications. But in late stages, Ayurveda is better as supportive therapy that improves quality of living.”

Dr Prajapati further explained cancer proliferation by saying, “In case of malignant tumors, all three basics of Ayurveda (i.e. Vata, Pitta and Kapha) get out of control and lose mutual coordination that causes tissue damage, resulting in critical conditions. Tridoshas cause excessive metabolic crises resulting in proliferation.”

The cancer research has not yet improved to confirm whether cancer therapies are completely safe. But the research has improved enough to reduce the severity of side effects caused by cancer therapies, allowing the body to recover quickly.

In context with cancer relapse after radiation and chemotherapy, we consulted Radiation Oncologist Dr. Sarthak Moharir, to know if such cases are common in India. He explained, “Chemotherapy and radiation can indeed cause second malignancies. The risk of developing cancer varies with the kind of chemotherapy and the location of receiving radiation therapy. However, the benefit of undergoing chemotherapy/radiation therapy is far greater than the risk of developing a second cancer.”

In context with cancer therapies causing new cancer, we found an article on Cancer.org that says both radiation and chemotherapy can cause second cancer. By definition, a second cancer is a new cancer that is a different type of cancer which is not related to the previous cancer diagnosis. Both radiation and chemotherapy increase the risk of leukaemia and Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

We again asked Dr. Moharir about how frequent the cases of second cancer are in India. To this, he said “One or two patients out of a hundred cancer patients will eventually go on to develop a second primary. Increasing incidence of a second malignancy indicates that therapies are now so effective that patients live long enough to develop a second cancer”.

THIP MEDIA TAKE: Both radiation and chemotherapy are safe procedures and increase the lifespan. However, in some cases, they may cause cancer again. Hence, the claim is half true.

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