5 Things They Say Give You Cancer (And Why They're Wrong)


Scientists and journalists alike have been conjuring up different ways to scare the shit out of people for decades, their favorite probably being convincing the public that almost everything they come into contact with causes some form of cancer.

Most of these cancer scares are baseless or at least grossly exaggerated, which unfortunately does nothing to diminish their popularity. We're talking about things like...

Cell Phones

The Myth

It all started in 1993 when a man filed a lawsuit against his cell phone company, claiming that his deceased wife's constant cell phone use gave her a brain tumor. He claimed that the tumor was "antenna-shaped" and it was on the side of her head. That's how cancer works, right?

Despite this ironclad testimony, the case was immediately dismissed because of lack of evidence (and an abundance of what legal experts refer to as "not evidence"). The damage had been done, however, and the cell phone industry suffered a public relations disaster, costing them $25 million worth of research to crush the allegation.

Why It's Bullshit

There have been literally hundreds of studies done about cell phone use and cancer since 1993, most with inconclusive results. The problem is that cell phones have only been around for a short period of time, long enough to perfect downloading episodes of The Sopranos but not quite enough to determine whether or not the device is x-raying your brain.

Despite the temporary setback, large case-control studies have given enough evidence to researchers worldwide for them to conclude with relative certainty that cell phones won't give you a tumor unless you're sending a Tweet on your BlackBerry from the Bikini Atoll.

The case-control studies examined both people with and without brain cancer and compared all of their past cell phone usage, finding no link between the two. Also, there was no link between what side of the head the cancer was on and what side the cell phone was used, though there was an alarming connection between patients with severe brain tumors and wallpaper downloads from the Fast & Furious movies.

Artificial Sweeteners

The Myth

One of the most popular artificial sweeteners (and alleged agents of death) goes by the name of Aspartame, often sold as Nutrasweet. It can be found in a whole bunch of food products from diet soda to chewing gum. However, in 1996, a shocking report was released in which the increase of people with brain tumors between the years of 1975 and 1992 was associated with the creation of this new substance.

We at Cracked found nothing to support the rumor of Diet Coke originally being called "Tumor-Ade"

Not only that, but according to the report, laboratory rats that were subject to Aspartame in cool, refreshing diet sodas were found to have an increased chance of getting lymphomas or leukemia, which are neither cool nor refreshing.

COOCH, the lethal ingredient.

Needless to say, most people freaked the fuck out and if you try to do a search on Google for Aspartame...

...the suggested searches make that shit sound like rat poison.

Why It's Bullshit

According to the National Cancer Institute, statistics show that the increase of brain and central nervous system cancers began in 1973, eight years before Aspartame appeared. Unless a few mad scientists went back in time to sprinkle the stuff in everyone's drinks, we're going to go ahead and believe the NCI. Cancer is sort of their beat.

Believe what you will.

As for the laboratory rats used in the study, those animals were introduced to amounts of Aspartame so massive they are worthy of song and legend. To put it in perspective, the rat with the smallest trace of cancer (we're talking like ONE cancer cell) was introduced to the human equivalent of 8 cans of diet soda a day. The most cancer-tastic rat had about 2,083 cans a day.

Yeah, we're pretty sure if you drank that much anything, even if it was fucking V8 vegetable juice enriched with the world's finest vitamins, you'd explode like a water balloon. The long term side effects would really be the least of your problems.

Microwave Ovens

The Myth

The whole idea of cooking food via some kind of invisible death ray has always made people a bit nervous, so rumors of health risks have circulated since the microwave oven was invented. There are two main rumors, the first one has to do with stray radiation giving you cancer, but the second and more recent has to do with carcinogens (cancer-causers) that are somehow created in food when heated by microwaves.

It all started in the late 1980s, when a scientist named Hans Hertel locked himself and seven of his vegetarian buddies in a hotel, eating little more than microwave-prepared vegetables and milk for two whole months (we argue by that point, their farts alone would be cancerous).

Hertel popped out after the two months and stated his findings: " appears to indicate the initial stage of a pathological process such as occurs at the start of a cancerous condition." Since then, numerous studies have been done on the effects of microwave heating as well as the radiation given off every time you reheat your P.F. Chang's.

"Who wants pot roastOH MY GOD, MY OVARIES ARE BURNING!"

Why It's Bullshit

Hans Hertel dropped out of the public view shortly thereafter, but what he said scared the shit out of the public. After all, most people had been using a microwave for years. However, if you carefully examine his statement above, he never offers any evidence that food prepared in a microwave will cause cancer, just that it kind of looks like there might be some kind of cancer shindig about to go down, maybe.

Not only that, but his findings were not based on any scientific proof, were not published in any kind of scientific journal, and were never peer-reviewed. At the end of the day it was just a bunch of dudes doing this off the cuff in a hotel, so they might as well have published their findings on the back of a box of Crunch Berries.

What we now know about microwaves is that the radiation used to heat the food is absolutely not powerful enough to either damage someone's DNA or alter the foods in way that may cause cancer (sadly, this also means that tossing a spider into the microwave and then getting it to bite you will not, in fact, give you super powers).

The actual micro-waves that are used to heat our food are non-ionizing, which means that they do not contain cancer-causing agents like UV rays, X-rays, and other kinds of rays that do act as carcinogens. This is one of those things that should probably fall into the "no shit" category, since we didn't see an explosion of cancer among people around microwaves all day (that is, people who work in restaurants) and who are bombarded by their supposed dangerous radiation for hours at a time.

Though that doesn't mean you should get drunk and start sticking random shit from your house in one.

Power Lines, Computer Monitors... Pretty Much Anything With Electricity

The Myth

The whole "power lines give you cancer" scare can probably be traced back to 1979, when two researchers named Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper did a study that showed that there was a link between child leukemia and the close proximity of power lines in some Denver neighborhoods. The cause for this, they said, were the electro-magnetic fields given off from the lines... the same electro-magnetic fields that are given off by TV and computer monitors, microwaves, and half of the stuff around your house.

I will fucking murder you with cancer.

Naturally, this generated a whole shit-storm of other studies on electrical currents and whether or not they were really safe to use. Ironically, these studies were more than likely analyzed using at least once electronic device, so cancer had an inside man like Matt Damon in The Departed.

Why It's Bullshit

There were quite a few things wrong with Nancy and Ed's Denver study, first and foremost being that they never actually measured the magnetic fields from the power lines (sort of like that time in 11th grade when you wrote a paper on The Scarlet Letter without ever reading the book). To date, any study that measured the fields has shown no consistent relationship between how powerful the fields were and much cancer people got.

Tesla Bowie would be pissed.

Secondly, they didn't consider the fact that those who live close to power lines are generally low-income families who can't always afford proper health care or a place to live where their children aren't constantly loomed over by the threat of electric death. In fact, there are studies that single out poverty-stricken individuals as having a higher risk of cancer than anyone, because their lives aren't shitty enough already.

The Cracked staff are at an especially high risk.

Meanwhile there have been literally hundreds of studies on things like electric blankets, computer screens and power lines, most with the same results: there is not enough evidence out there to suggest that electromagnetic fields pose a real cancer risk.

See? (Thanks, xkcd!)

As for the community in the Denver study, over the past few decades the use of electrical appliances in their homes has actually increased while Leukemia rates have dropped. However, deaths from child neglect, gunshots, and stabbings have also increased in low income communities, so really cancer just passed the buck on this one.

Fluoridated Water

The Myth

Let's face it: any time you start putting shit in people's water supply, they're going to complain. You could put forward a program to dribble in a little Cristal at the water treatment plant just to class things up, and you'd get protestors the next day.

So for the past century, many people have been convinced that the plan to dilute fluoride into water supplies is evil somehow, everything from granting the government mind control powers to disposing of toxic waste. Every time a country talks about adding fluoride to its water, alarmists bombard the public with propaganda against it.

Knowing is half the planet -- or whatever. Ah fuck it.

So in 1990, when the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) did a study on the effects of fluoridated water on laboratory rats (evidently rats were responsible for some grievous atrocity back on the planet Scientistune and revenge is being exacted in our world) and found that there was evidence of a higher rate of bone cancer, it loosened the bowels of everyone in the anti-fluoride movement.

The whispers of conspiracy intensified when it was alleged that a scientist working for Colgate had possibly tampered with the results of a major study in 2006 that demonstrated a link between fluoridated water and the appearance of bone cancer in boys, which is way more nefarious than any of us ever expected toothpaste to be.

His eyes are closed because he's dead.

Why It's Bullshit

More than 50 different studies have attempted to prove a link between fluoridated water and cancer since that 1990 study, and found what all of the studies prior to that also found, which is that there's no evidence of a link between fluoridated water and cancer.

Like the power line thing, what makes it difficult is that there are infinite other possible causes for cancer so rates go up and down on their own. You may find one community where rates went up, only to find that they were also, say, drinking coolant spilled from nuclear submarines. But as a whole they could find no increase in cancer in communities that have fluoridated water verses the ones that don't.

Basically, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, United States Public Health Service, National Research Council, National Health Service, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all agreed there that fluoride in your tap water won't give you cancer. Then again, if you believe in the conspiracy, those are exactly the type of people the conspirators would hire to reassure you.

So they can control your mind.

With cancer.

Read more from Joe at For Us.. By Other People.

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