5 Dangerous Medical Myths

A doctor pressing a stethoscope against his male patient's back
Myths can steer people toward illness, hardship and even death. From tetanus shots to colonoscopies, it’s very easy to spread misinformation that the average person can’t always readily distinguish from the truth.

What are some of the most common medical myths that may be sabotaging your health?

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Myth 1: Doctors don’t play favorites.

What is one of the greatest threat in people’s lives when it comes to their health? A lack of assertiveness with doctors and other medical personnel.

Experts agree that as patients, we like to believe that physicians treat everyone with equal care and concern, but they don’t. There are inherent biases in health care, whether it’s racism or sexism or ageism.

Such discrimination means some groups of patients get shortchanged when they most need the best care.


For example, obese women often receive inadequate doses of chemotherapy because doctors discount them for being overweight.

The solution? People should see as many different physicians as possible until they find one who takes their complaints seriously and shows dedication to healing them. They also need to speak up and insist on attention and care from doctors and nurses.

When it comes to navigating the health care system, hesitance and embarrassment are not conducive to good health. If you feel you need the support, feel free to bring someone with you who you can trust to speak for you.

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Myth 2: You can skip annual check-ups.

Wrong! Times have become confusing as every few months or so, new medical news comes out saying you no longer need to worry about certain annual exams, such as pap smears. However, you should still visit a primary care doctor every year and ensure that their services and tests are tailored to your sex, age and risks based on family history.

Most doctors also still stress the importance of routine checks, such as blood pressure and urinalysis, which help detect problems before they turn into crises.

Because many of us forget to schedule yearly exams, pick a memorable date, like your birthday, to make the appointment.

Myth 3: Adults don’t need shots.

Sorry, but shots are not just for kids. Some 70,000 U.S. adults die every year from causes that vaccinations could have prevented.

Many of us think that once we’ve completed the childhood series of shots for polio, measles and the like, we’re done. But we may need tetanus booster shots, human papillomavirus (HPV) injections to prevent cervical cancer, and even a vaccine against meningitis, a deadly bacterial infection of the brain that tends to strike on college campuses.

If your parents dropped the ball on childhood vaccinations for diseases such as chicken pox and measles, you’re not out of danger.

Talk to your doctor about getting immunized,  and check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for a detailed rundown of what you need.

Myth 4: Only old people get heart disease and stroke.

Heart attacks strike only elderly, paunchy middle-aged men, right? Not necessarily. Strokes, which occur when there’s a stoppage of blood flow to the brain, also can affect young people.

If you’re not a member of either of those groups, you could still be at risk.

Everyone should begin heart checks at age 20, the American Heart Association says. That’s because problems that lead to arteriosclerosis, the buildup that blocks blood flow to the heart, can start when you’re young − a possible consequence of factors such as a fat-laden diet, smoking and obesity.

People should be tested for high blood pressure, cholesterol count and body mass index (BMI). They also need to be aggressive about getting to the emergency room at the first sign of danger.

Whatever your age, if you experience signs of a heart attack (pressure in the chest or pain radiating from the chest) or stroke (a sudden numbness on one side of the body), get medical help immediately.

Symptoms can also differ by gender. In women, heart attacks are often preceded by jaw pain, a feeling of breathing icy air or overwhelming fatigue. Men experience pain and  intense pressure in their chest. Call an ambulance if you have any of these symptoms.

Another tip: never drive yourself to the E.R. When you arrive with sirens, you’ll get treatment faster.

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Myth 5: Natural means safe.

Think natural ingredients are automatically safe? Think again. Example: there are two natural, plant-derived substances we all know about that can end lives: tobacco and arsenic.

So what about the hundreds of holistic remedies and diet supplements, from wheat grass juice and blue-green algae to biotin capsules, that are commonly found at most health food stores?

There aren’t easy answers, most experts say, because most such products haven’t received the extensive clinical testing that prescription drugs go through before entering the market.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require such trials for natural substances.

If you decide to try natural products, take these sensible steps:

  • Talk with your conventional doctor. Tell him or her what you’re taking and how much, and who else (for example, an herbalist or homeopathic professional) has been giving you advice.
  • Remember that everything you put in your mouth can affect something else you’re taking, which is why your doctor needs to have all the information before giving you prescription drugs or anesthesia for surgical procedures.
  • Also, do your homework before you try any natural remedies. “It’s best to look at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition or the Tufts University website.


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CORI Hosts Health Seminar On Cancer & The Family

African American Black Family at the beach
Statistics show a healthy family is a happy family.

Ways to obtain and maintain good health and well-being within the family is the subject of A Family Health Day: Focus Cancer, a workshop hosted by the California Oncology Research Institute (CORI) in partnership with the Global Wellness Project (GWP), set to take place at 9 a.m.-12 noon, Sat., June 23, in Fellowship Hall at First Church of God Center of Hope, 9550 Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles.

The workshop is the fourth in a series of CORI programs designed and developed by Dr. Ronald Hurst, co-founder and director of clinical research of CORI, to address the various cancers that disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos (including colon, breast, prostate and general oncology). It will include on-site mammogram screenings at no cost to participants. It is free and open to the public.

“June is Men’s Health Month and we’ve asked women to bring a man they love to the workshop,” said Angela de Joseph, GWP executive director. “The workshop will not only address cancers that disproportionately affect the African American community, we will also have a special presentation for Black men on prostate and colon cancer. One out of every five African Americans is uninsured which is one of the primary factors leading to late cancer diagnosis.”

Workshop speakers include Dr. Hurst and CORI co-founder Dr. Anton Bilchik, who will both lead the panel discussion; as well as Dr. Jenny Ru and Dr. Dana Scott.

Dr. Scott, a urologist who has been doing community outreach for years, applauds the work of Dr. Hurst and Dr. Bilchik, who have developed several health-based community workshops.

“These kinds of workshops are needed for our community,” said Scott, who graduated from Drew UCLA Medical School in 2005. “I chose urology because cancer was disproportionately affecting my community.”

Scott agrees that once a person is diagnosed, the support system that is in place is also affected.

“It’s interesting,” said Scott. “A cancer diagnosis affects everyone in the family not just the person being diagnosed. If it’s a man, it affects the woman taking care of him, his children, his friends and his extended family.”

Scott said there are three things a family should know about cancer prevention.

“Diet, exercise and regular screenings are the three things everyone needs to think about on a regular basis,” said Scott. “Black men should monitor their diets, watch their cholesterol and exercise. They should be getting their annual physicals and following up. They should also talk to their families about whatever illnesses they have so the younger generation can know what to look out for.”

In terms of diet, Scott advises everyone to pay attention to the areas they shop in at the super markets.

“My suggestion is to shop the perimeter of the store,” said Scott. “If you remember that and practice that, you’ll be sure to get the nutrients you need from fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy and eggs. Stay away from the middle of the store where there is processed food.”

Scott, whose practice focuses on prostate cancer, said getting the right information out to the community is critical.

She disagrees with a recent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) study that dismisses the need for men to have prostate exams once they turn 40.

The study intimates that screenings for prostate cancer has more risks than benefits.

“I think it’s important for Black men to have a prostate exam at 40 despite what the U.S. Task Force recently put out,” said Scott. “We don’t know enough to say we should stop checking at age 40. Unfortunately, when it comes to Blacks and cancer – we are considered to be a high risk factor. Just being Black you’re at risk. So, how can we go from being at risk to not needing to be screened at all?”

Dr. Hurst wants to point out that knowledge is power.

“We need to get ahead of cancer,” said Dr. Hurst. “We need to openly talk about ways to live with a diagnosis of cancer. My goal is to reach out to the community the best way I can, which is why I helped to develop this program.”

Dr. Hurst, F.A.C.S., who is also partnered with the United States Military Cancer Institute, emphasized that getting the word out about cancer and how if affects African Americans and Latinos is crucial.

“The African American community should know not to be afraid,” said Hurst.

“Everyone should know not to be afraid. Fear becomes our greatest obstacle. Men don’t talk about it or get checked because we think we’re invincible. As doctors, in our best state we provide reactionary medicine. We need to get ahead of cancer. We’ve got to get to the people before they get cancer.”

Dr. Bilchik agrees.

“One of the reasons I started CORI is because I realized that we were presenting our cancer research around the world hoping to improve standards for cancer care, however this information was not getting to the people that needed it the most – underserved people particularly in the inner city,” said Bilchik, co-founder and medical director for CORI.”

Dr. Bilchik, who has been honored by the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons, added that there are disparities with nearly every cancer.

“The outcomes in African Americans is worse for breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic and stomach cancer to name but a few,” said Bilchik, who was recently listed as one of “Americas Top Surgeons” for 10 years in a row. “This is likely due to socioeconomic differences and lack of access to health care.”

Statistics show that minorities experience higher rates of illness and death from not only various cancers, but also health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma, hepatitis B and obesity.

“Educating people about prevention is so important,” said Dr. Jenny Ru, an internist, hematologist and oncologist. “Prevention is the most important thing you can do. We have to make the public aware of that. When it’s detected early, it is treatable. You can survive. It’s about saving lives. Healthy lifestyles need to be emphasized.”

Dr. Bilchik, a Professor of Oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said CORI is committed to ending the health disparities in the minority population.

“Some of the ways we’re going to accomplish this is by engaging the community and teaching prevention and early detection,” said Bilchik, Ph.D., F.A.C.S. Chief of Medicine at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center. “It’s also about providing psychosocial support to patients and families dealing with cancer and providing educational material that can be easy to understand.”

“We agree that a healthy family is a happy family,” said de Joseph. “That is why the Global Wellness Project (GWP) is pleased to partner with CORI to bring life saving cancer education to our community. “We are committed to bringing the highest quality of health education and free screenings into the African American and Latino communities.”

GWP has partnered with CORI to produce a series of dynamic cancer awareness workshops to faith-based organizations throughout the Southern California region. Information is available on the website, www.globalwellnessproject.org.

CORI, a non-profit, is committed to curing cancer through innovative research, early detection, novel treatments, and education through community outreach efforts.

For information, contact CORI at [email protected] or 310-883-0096.