Myths & Misconceptions

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2018

There are many myths and misconceptions about blood cancer, and it is important to learn the facts. Below are some of the common myths and misconceptions about blood cancer.

Myth: Leukemias only occur in children, and lymphomas only occur in older adults

Fact: While certain types of blood cancer are more common in children and certain types of blood cancer are more common in older adults, the different types of blood cancer can occur in a wide range of different ages.

One of the most common types of cancer in children is leukemia. Other common cancers in children include brain and central nervous system cancers, and lymphoma. Adults can also get leukemia and lymphoma, and overall, the risk of developing cancers, including blood cancers, increases as a person grows older. Scientists believe this is potentially because the longer a person lives, there is a greater likelihood and frequency to be exposed to various environmental factors that can cause mutations in the DNA of the cells, potentially causing them to become cancerous.1,2

Myth: Everyone who has a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma has the same type of cancer

Fact: There are more than 60 different subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). They are classified by the type of lymphocyte they develop from (B cell or T cell), how the cells look under a microscope, the chromosomal features of the cells, the types of proteins found on the surface of the cells, and how slowly or quickly the cancer progresses or grows. The different subtypes of NHL are generally characterized as either indolent (slower growing) or aggressive (faster growing). How quickly the cancer grows helps determine the treatment that is recommended.3,4

Myth: Only blood relatives can be a donor for a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant

Fact: Donors for bone marrow and stem cell transplants may be relatives of the person with blood cancer, or they may be unrelated people or complete strangers. The donor and recipient are matched based on specific protein markers on the cells, called human leukocyte antigens (HLA). The immune system uses HLA markers to recognize what is self and what is other and finding a match as close as possible provides the best likelihood for success for the recipient because their immune system is more likely to accept the donor's stem cells.5

Myth: Stress causes cancer

Fact: Although prolonged stress can cause physical health problems, the link between stress and cancer is weak. While some studies have shown that there may be a link between stress and an increased risk of cancer, other studies have shown that there is not a link. It's difficult to determine if stress alone increases a person's risk for cancer, because many people engage in unhealthy behaviors to cope with increased stress, like smoking, drinking alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors have been associated with increased risks of certain types of cancer.6

Receiving a diagnosis of blood cancer and undergoing treatment can be stressful. While research has not found that stress directly impacts a person's survival, finding ways to reduce or manage your stress is important, as chronic stress can weaken the immune system and decrease feelings of well-being. Nutrition, exercise, and support groups can help people manage stress. Other techniques that may help include meditation, breathing exercises, visualizations, and yoga.6,7

Myth: Sugar feeds cancer cells, and eliminating sugar from your diet can help cure cancer

Fact: All of the cells in the body use glucose (a form of sugar) for fuel. Cancer cells grow more quickly than healthy cells, and they tend to use more glucose to fuel that growth. However, research has not shown that a diet high in sugar directly causes cancer. Eating a diet higher in sugar does tend to lead to obesity, which has been linked to higher risks of developing certain cancers, but removing sugar from the diet has not been proven to improve survival of cancer.8

Myth: A diagnosis of blood cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, or myeloproliferative neoplasms) is a death sentence

Fact: Over the past couple decades, the survival rates for various types of blood cancer have been increasing due to the advancements in research and new treatment options. While survival rates are based on aggregate data from large groups of people, each individual case is different. The prognosis for any individual with blood cancer is based on many factors, including the type of blood cancer they have, how it responds to treatment, and their overall health.8,9

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