The idea that lifestyle changes have made the disease more common is a gross exaggeration – but increasingly prevalent. We separate fact from fiction

Cancer is not up there with the most likely explanations for what caused the mass extinction 66m years ago of the T rex and the triceratops. That said, at least one species of dinosaur suffered from blood-vessel tumours – and a 1.7m-year-old toe with bone cancer was discovered in 2016 at a South African world heritage site.

Cancer may have been more common in ancient times than we will ever know, because fossilisation will have obliterated most evidence of the disease. However, misinterpretations of some small studies and claims by self-styled wellness gurus that cancer is “a man-made disease” have fed the belief that cancer is modern. While that does not mean anyone concerned about cancer should visit their local natural history museum for information, thinking of cancer as a result of modern life causes unnecessary fear. Here are some modern myths about cancer.

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