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Two out of three (67%) of Australians believe animals can sniff out cancer, according to Cancer Council Australia. On World Cancer day, the Council wants to bust this myth and others about cancer and encourage Australians to seek health information from credible sources.

Based on research from the Cancer Council, which surveyed 1,000 Australians to form a nationally representative sample, other commonly held beliefs included:

  • Alternative therapies can cure cancer (two in five (40%))
  • Sunscreen contains chemicals that are bad for you (nearly half (46%))
  • Not realising you can get skin cancer even if you don’t burn (8%)

The Council Cancer said the research indicated some alarming and potentially dangerous myths about cancer.

“People affected by cancer are particularly vulnerable and we know that misinformation in cancer is rife,” Megan Varlow, Director of Cancer Control Policy and Cancer Council Australia said.

“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.”

Ms Varlow said while two in five Australians believed alternative therapies could 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.”

“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.

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 (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.” Ms Varlow said.

Cancer Council’s website 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.