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Lupus expert debunks 7 common myths about the autoimmune disease: ‘Not a death sentence’

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Lupus expert debunks 7 common myths about the autoimmune disease: ‘Not a death sentence’

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Fatigue, pain, swelling, rashes and hair loss are just some of the symptoms that affect people with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue.

Some 1.5 million Americans are living with lupus, with about 16,000 new cases each year, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, based in Washington, D.C.

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There are many myths surrounding lupus that can make it difficult for people to understand and manage the disease, according to Dr. Brooke Goldner, a board-certified medical doctor and an autoimmune professor at Cornell University.

EXPERIMENTAL LUPUS THERAPY COULD BE ‘LIFE-CHANGING’ FOR PATIENTS WITH AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE, STUDY FINDS

“It’s essential to educate yourself and others about lupus to dispel these myths and increase understanding of the disease,” Golder, who was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 16, told Fox News Digital.

For Lupus Awareness Month, Goldner shared some of the biggest misconceptions — and set the record straight on a number of issues.

Dr. Brooke Goldner, a board-certified medical doctor and an autoimmune professor at Cornell University, pictured at right, is committed to debunking lupus myths and misconceptions. (iStock/Dr. Brooke Goldner)

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7 myths debunked

Myth No. 1: There is only one type of lupus

The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but it’s not the only form of the disease. 

“SLE can have a wide range of symptoms that may come and go, making it challenging to diagnose,” Goldner said. 

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Some of the common symptoms of SLE include fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, fever, hair loss, skin rashes and sensitivity to sunlight.

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE), a less common form, affects only the skin. 

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The two least common types are neonatal lupus and drug-induced lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Myth No. 2: Lupus is contagious

Lupus cannot be transmitted from person to person, Goldner said. 

“It occurs when your immune system attacks your own tissues and organs, causing inflammation and damage,” she said. 

Woman holding her wrist

“Lupus can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other organs,” one doctor said. (BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“Lupus can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other organs.”

Myth No. 3: Lupus only affects women

“While lupus does affect more women than men, it can affect anyone, including children and men,” Goldner said. 

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Anyone can develop lupus. Yet 90% of cases affect women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Myth No. 4: Lupus is a cancer

Medicines like chemotherapy are often used in severe lupus cases, but it is not a form of cancer

FOR AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE SUFFERERS, GINGER MAY ‘PLAY A CRITICAL ROLE’ IN CONTROLLING INFLAMMATION, STUDY FINDS

“It is an autoimmune disease, whereby the immune system begins attacking the body’s own tissues rather than just foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria,” Goldner told Fox News Digital.

“Chemotherapy is known as an immune system suppressant, which can be lifesaving when lupus is causing organ failure and aggressive immunosuppression is required.”

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Myth No. 5: Lupus is caused by stress

While stress can trigger lupus symptoms, Goldner noted it is not the cause of the disease.

“The exact cause of lupus is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental and hormonal factors,” she said.

Myth No. 6: Lupus is purely caused by genetics

Genetics will determine whether you have the possibility of developing lupus, but it is not a condition you are born with, according to Goldner. 

Sick teen

Fatigue is a primary symptom of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). (iStock)

“Just like someone with the genetics to become type 2 diabetic will not develop the disease unless they have a diet and lifestyle that triggers it, the same is true for lupus,” she said.

Lupus is often triggered during times of physical and emotional stress combined with a nutrient-poor inflammatory diet, the expert added.

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Myth No. 7: Lupus is a death sentence

While lupus can be a serious disease, it is “not a death sentence,” according to Goldner. 

“While there is no medical cure for lupus, there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms and prevent damage to vital organs,” she said.

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“Treatment may include medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants and corticosteroids.” 

In addition to taking medications, many people with lupus can manage symptoms through healthy lifestyle interventions, according to Goldner.

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“Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, healthy eating and stress management can help improve the quality of life for people with lupus,” the expert said.

Healthy eating

“Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, healthy eating and stress management can help improve the quality of life for people with lupus,” the expert said. (iStock)

As a survivor of lupus and a physician, Goldner said she has dedicated her life to bringing more awareness to the disease and helping people gain the power to manage and eliminate symptoms through nutrition and lifestyle.

“This is not to suggest that people should not use medical treatments that can be lifesaving,” she said, “but rather that they embrace taking control of all the variables they can manage, like how they eat, sleep and manage stress with self-care, so they can minimize illness and maximize recovery and remission.”

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Does sunscreen cause skin cancer? Doctors debunk claims gone wild on social media

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Does sunscreen cause skin cancer? Doctors debunk claims gone wild on social media

Some claims on social media about sun safety have grown into a major misconception that sunscreen could cause skin cancer.

Hundreds of creators, many on TikTok, have posted videos arguing that the sun isn’t the culprit in causing cancer, but rather that harmful chemicals found in sunscreens are to blame.

This stems from a 2021 recall of Neutrogena spray sunscreens and one Aveeno product (Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen) due to the presence of benzene, a known carcinogen.

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Johnson & Johnson officials confirmed that benzene is not a sunscreen ingredient, according to a Harvard Medical School advisory in Oct. 2021.

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Additional testing reportedly found such low levels of benzene in these products that it would not be expected to cause health problems.

Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena Beach Defense bottles are seen on display on a table. The Neutrogena Beach Defense is one of the sunscreens that was recalled due to containing benzene. (Aimee Dilger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Experts advised choosing a different sunscreen brand as a solution.

But a national survey by the Orlando Health Cancer Institute in Florida found that one in seven adults under 35 years old believe sunscreen is more harmful to the skin than direct sun exposure.

SKIN CANCER CHECKS AND SUNSCREEN: WHY THESE (STILL) MATTER VERY MUCH FOR GOOD HEALTH

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Another 23% believe that drinking water and staying hydrated can prevent sunburns.

“This phenomenon taps into the public’s growing distrust of companies due to the proliferation of harmful chemicals in consumer products.”

Many Americans (32%) also believe that a tan makes people look better and healthier, the survey found.

Rajesh Nair, M.D., an oncology surgeon at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, commented in a press release that there is “no such thing as a healthy tan.”

woman using sunscreen on a beach

Thirty-two percent of Americans believe that a tan makes people look better and healthier, according to the Orlando Health Cancer Institute study. (iStock)

“It’s really just a visual manifestation of damage to the skin,” he said. “But we’re fighting against a perceived positive image and health benefits of something that actually has a totally opposite reality, which is that suntanned skin represents an increased risk of a deadly disease.”

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“Age, gender and phenotype play a role, too.” 

Krista Rubin, a nurse practitioner and member of Mass General Cancer Center’s Melanoma Team, told Fox News Digital that there is “little evidence supporting the claim that sunscreens are carcinogenic.” 

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“There is clear-cut evidence of the link between UV radiation exposure and skin cancer,” she wrote in an email. “However, the risk of developing skin cancer isn’t limited to UV radiation exposure – age, gender and phenotype play a role, too.” 

Males are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, Rubin said, as are people with blonde or red hair, light skin or light eyes. 

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man applies sunscreen on his shoulder at the beach

Sunburns are caused by damage from the sun’s UV rays, according to experts. (iStock)

Other risk factors include having a suppressed immune system, being a solid organ transplant recipient or taking certain medications.

Rubin reiterated that sunburns are caused by the sun’s UV rays damaging the skin. So, while drinking water in hot weather will help prevent dehydration and keep the body cool, it will not prevent sunburn.

HOW TO WEAR SUNSCREEN THE RIGHT WAY: YOUR GUIDE TO SPF

“A tan is visible evidence of skin injury,” the expert said. “Whether from the sun or from a tanning bed, tanning exposes the skin to high levels of UVA radiation, which we know is not healthy and is linked to both skin cancer and accelerated aging.”

Social media expert Eric Dahan, founder of Mighty Joy, said she believes social media has become “rife with misinformation about sunscreen.”

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Peeling skin on the shoulder after sunburn

“A tan is visible evidence of skin injury,” one expert said. (iStock)

“It’s often spread by well-meaning but overall uninformed, self-appointed health and wellness experts and select dermatologists,” said Dahan, who is based in California. 

“A lot of the misinformation is due to actual science being less engaging and more nuanced than bold (false) statements.” 

The spread of false information regarding sunscreen reflects a “general public sentiment” about what the products contain, Dahan said. 

WHAT SPF SHOULD YOUR SUNSCREEN HAVE? FIND OUT HOW IT MAY HELP PREMATURE AGING AND SKIN CANCER

“This phenomenon taps into the public’s growing distrust of companies due to the proliferation of harmful chemicals in consumer products,” he said. 

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“Over the years, we have discovered that materials that were deemed as ‘safe’ are highly harmful – from lead, BPA, PFaS and now plastics.”

woman and man spraying sunscreen in a kayak

A rise in cancer rates among young people could be driving a “distrust of companies,” one expert noted. (iStock)

There has also been a rise in cancer rates among young people, Dahan mentioned, which further drives a “healthy distrust of companies and government regulators.”

“When it comes to sunscreen, it seems a lot of the misinformation was driven by an old chemical used decades ago that has since been prohibited, after a contamination event led to a recall,” he said.

Among consumers of social media, Dahan suggested that it is “very difficult to determine what is true if you’re not an expert.” 

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“There are conflicting studies, conflicting opinions from seemingly credible individuals, flat-out false information, and an overall lack of confidence in the private companies making these products and in government regulators,” he said.

Some experts — including Dr. Nicky Gazy, a board-certified dermatologist in Florida — have responded on social media with the recommendation to use sunscreen alternatives that do not contain benzene.

a little girl has sunscreen applied to her face

One dermatologist recommended using zinc-based mineral sunscreen. (iStock)

“When it comes to skin cancer and skin health, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen,” Gazy said in a TikTok video posted in July 2023.

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To decrease cumulative exposure to “chemical sunscreens,” Gazy recommended wearing a zinc-based mineral sunscreen. 

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“It’s actually what I recommend to my patients, especially my pregnant patients,” he said.

Fox News Digital reached out to Johnson & Johnson for comment.

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DASH vs. the Mediterranean Diet: Heart-Healthy, But Very Different | Woman's World

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