May 17, 2020

World Cancer Day: The Biggest Cancer Myths Debunked

4 min
Blueberries, regarded as a "superfood" by some, while essential to a healthy diet, do not have a major influence on preventing cancer.
Every year, February 4th is dedicated to spreading awareness about one of the deadliest diseases in the world: cancer.

With more than 8 million cancer...

Every year, February 4th is dedicated to spreading awareness about one of the deadliest diseases in the world: cancer.

With more than 8 million cancer-related deaths taking place each year and approximately 14 million new cases, it’s a day that calls for global attention.

Thanks to a number of breakthroughs in research and treatment, cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years, but the fight needs to continue. And while cancer is a well-known disease, there are still a number of myths that surround it.

[READ MORE] Why Scientists Learning How To Unboil An Egg Is Bad News For Cancer

Here, we debunk the biggest cancer myths to remove any stigma and bring the world closer to awareness.

1. Cancer is a man-made disease.

Cancer has existed for as long as humans have, being described by ancient Egyptian and Greek physicians in discovered texts. Researchers have also discovered signs of cancer in a 3,000 year old skeleton.

And while global, lifestyle-related diseases like cancer are on the rise, the biggest risk factor for cancer is age, according to the Cancer Research UK.

“The simple fact is that more people are living long enough to develop cancer because of our success in tackling infectious diseases and other historical causes of death such as malnutrition,” states the center. “It’s perfectly normal for DNA damage in our cells to build up as we age, and such damage can lead to cancer developing.”

2. Superfoods prevent cancer.

In all actuality, there is no such thing as a “superfood.” That doesn’t mean, however, that some foods are clearly healthier than others. Blueberries or a cup of green tea could certainly be part of a healthy diet, but the specific vegetables you choose don’t really matter.

Our bodies are complex and cancer is too, so saying that certain foods could have a major influence over your chance of developing cancer is a huge oversimplification.

[READ MORE] 4 Breakthroughs in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

3. Sugar feeds cancer.

While it’s sensible to limit sugary foods as part of an overall healthy diet, that’s a far cry from saying that sugary foods specifically feed cancer cells.

All our cells, cancerous or not, use glucose for energy. Because cancer cells are usually growing very fast compared with healthy cells, they have a particularly high demand for this fuel. Researchers are working to understand the differences in energy usage between healthy cells and cancerous cells and trying o exploit them to develop better treatments.

4. Cancer is a fungus.

This theory comes from the not-very-observant observation that “cancer is always white.”

One obvious problem with this idea – apart from the fact that cancer cells are clearly not fungal in origin – is that cancer isn’t always white. Some tumors are. But some aren’t.

Proponents of this theory say that cancer is caused by infection by the fungus candida, and that tumors are actually the body’s attempt at protecting itself from this infection. But there’s no evidence to show that this is true, states the Cancer Research UK blog.

5. Big Pharma is suppressing a cure to cancer.

Hand in hand with the idea that there is a cornucopia of “miracle cures” is the idea that governments, the pharmaceutical industry and even charities are colluding to hide the cure for cancer because they make so much money out of existing treatments.

[READ MORE] 3 Pharmaceutical Giants on the Road to Curing Cancer

Whatever the particular “cure” being touted, the logic is usually the same: it’s readily available, cheap and can’t be patented, so the medical establishment is suppressing it in order to line its own pockets. But, as we’ve written before, there’s no conspiracy – sometimes it just doesn’t work.

6. We’ve made no progress in fighting cancer.

Thanks to advances in research, survival from cancer has doubled in the UK alone in the past 40 years, and death rates have fallen by 10 percent, according to Cancer Research UK. The documentary The Enemy Within: 50 Years of Fighting Cancer is a great film that shows how far we’ve come over the years, from the early days of chemo in the 50s and 60s to the latest drugs and pin-point accurate radiotherapy.

There’s still a long way to go in the fight against cancer, but we’ve made great strides that deserve to be recognized.

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Jun 13, 2021

How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats

Jonathan Miles
6 min
Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, tells us how the healthcare sector can protect itself from attacks

One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority.  In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.

The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics. 

From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world. 

Going digital 

The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years. 

This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate. 

Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.

To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care. 

Strengthening defences

Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change. 

It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device. 

These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.

Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement: 
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.

In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.

Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents. 

Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.

This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents. 
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.

Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.

As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.  

Fighting future threats

With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.

To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced. 

This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.

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