Cancer is a disease that impacts nearly 40% of people in our society and is one that claims the lives of many of those individuals. While there are a number of cancer survivors that make it through the disease and go on to lead a healthy life thereafter, this really is a disease that you need to be doing all you can to prevent.
Essentially, if there is something you can control to avoid cancer, control it. Which brings us to this list.
When most people ask what causes cancer, they don’t really have a firm idea. Most will rattle of smoking as their first answer as it’s widely known and proven that smoking will, in fact, increase your risk (so butt out already if you haven’t!).
But beyond that, the waters get a bit murkier. Some will say things such as artificial sweeteners, or environmental pollution. Some may state that the chemicals found in cleaning products will do it while others will note that overuse of cell phones is a likely cause.
While there are definitely a number of different things that do cause cancer, the following seven are ones that many people do overlook. By making yourself aware of these, you can ensure that they aren’t going to come into play in your life, potentially causing you to go down a path of disease.
1. Your Home City
Could your home be causing you to be at risk for cancer? If you happen to live in a major metropolitan area, yes. While it sucks to think that you could be putting your health in jeopardy because of where you live, it’s been shown that countries that have the poorest quality of air and water show increased rates of cancer development.
The United States is very bad for this and the larger the city, generally speaking, the more pollutants will be present.
So should you move? Well, it depends on how worried about cancer you are. Keep in mind that where you are within the city may make a difference as well. If you are in the outskirts of the city in an area with primarily housing, you may not be exposed to as many pollutants on a daily basis as you would if you were in the heart of the city around large buildings, plenty of buses and other traffic, as well as potentially other factors.
Choose your location wisely. You don’t have to move into the country if you don’t want to, but do consider the neighborhood you are choosing to live in.
2. Candles And Air Fresheners
So you like to keep your home nice and clean and smelling fresh. Nothing wrong with that, right? If you are looking to prevent cancer though, please keep reading. The more of these types of products you use in your home, the more likely you are to have volatile organic chemicals in your house, which could be linked with an increase in cancer rates.
One particular scent, limonene, which is what helps to create that citrusy fresh scent that so many people love is going to be the most harmful as it reacts with the air to form formaldehyde, which has been connected with a number of different cancers including myeloid leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer.
While there’s nothing wrong with having a clean and fresh smelling home, you are better off to achieve this by simply opening your windows (assuming you don’t live in a highly polluted environment as noted above) and using natural cleaning agents instead. They may not leave the scent that you are hoping for, but as long as the house is clean, there should be no unwanted odors anyway.
Keep in mind as well that it’s not just citrusy scents that you’ll want to avoid. In addition to that, you should also be sure that you are not taking in phthalates, DEP, DBP, or DEHP either. Read the labels on any scents or cleaning products you use to be sure that they are free of these.
Also consider that according to the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners1, if a scent claims to be organic, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free and clear. Those products as well can also contain harmful chemicals that could be linked to a higher incidence rate of cancer.
They also note that in addition to avoiding cleaning products, also watch out for fragrances you are using as well. There are so many chemicals in any store bought fragrance and when you apply these on your skin, they are absorbed into the skin transdermally.
We are so focused on what we put into our body food-wise to help prevent and combat cancer that we tend to forget that that’s not the only way a substance can get into our body. If you apply it to the skin, it can be soaked up that way as well.
3. Alcohol Intake
This one may be hard for some people to hear, but if you really want to put your best foot forward at avoiding cancers, cutting back on your alcohol intake may be a wise move.
Smoking got the worst rap of all for causing cancers and that was well deserved, but drinking can be just as problematic. Those who show a higher rate of alcohol consumption tends to show a higher overall risk of breast cancer especially2.
One study noted that women who increased the amount of alcohol they took in over a five year period were more prone to suffering from breast cancer than those who were non-drinkers.
Many people will pass this off stating that drinking, especially if it’s wine, can help lower the risk for heart disease. And while that is true – there have been some benefits to including alcohol in your day as far as heart disease goes, remember that there are many ways to improve your heart health and reduce heart disease. Drinking does not need to be your primary source – in fact, it shouldn’t be.
Alcohol contains a lot of additional calories as well, which is to be noted as it’s going to put you at risk for weight gain (which is another cause of cancer).
And men don’t get let off the hook here either. Don’t think that just because you’re a man and don’t have breasts that you needn’t worry. Other forms of cancer that may also show a higher overall risk profile if you are drinking regularly include head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer.
The reason why alcohol and cancer appear to go hand in hand is that as your body breaks down the ethanol in the alcohol, which is a toxin, becomes acetaldehyde, which can be linked to damage to your DNA and protein in the body. In addition to that, it can also lead to oxidation that could have estrogenic effects over time, which is also connected to a higher overall rate of cancer development.
If you can refrain from drinking alcohol altogether, that’s your safest option.
4. Avoid The Sawdust
That’s right – sawdust. While you may not be exposed to sawdust ever and don’t need to worry, if you have a career or a hobby that does have you in and around sawdust or at least a semi-regular basis, you need to be extra careful about what this could be doing to your health.
Wood is a known human carcinogen and when researchers have looked at cancer incidence rates in furniture workers compared to those who were not around sawdust at all, they saw a much greater risk factor for nasal cancer.
The worst woods to be around? Avoid beech and oak. While any wood could cause you potential harm, these seem to be the most problematic.
If you do have a career in this industry that causes you to be around sawdust, not to worry. You don’t need to go quitting your job anytime soon. But it is a good idea to consider wearing a respirator or mask that will help to protect you from the tiny particles in the air that you are breathing in.
5. Protection From Sunscreens
Here’s one that you may find hard to swallow, the very thing you are using to help prevent cancer could actually be causing it. Sunscreens, when you use the wrong one, are proven to put you at a higher risk factor for developing cancer.
The reason why this is a problem is that if your sunscreen of choice contains Benzophenone-3, this can trigger DNA damage to the body and promote the growth of cancer cells.
So you might ask why the FDA hasn’t just banned this ingredient entirely? The reason is that it is very effective in protecting against UV rays. This said, it’s not the only way to protect yourself, so if you are someone who is going to be out in sunlight quite regularly, we would urge you to focus on using another form of sunscreen protection. Look for a product that does not contain this ingredient and use that instead.
It’s still important that you do use sunscreen however because if you don’t, you’re also putting yourself at great risk anytime you encounter unprotected sun exposure.
According to the National Cancer Institute3, the rate of new melanoma cases among people in America is now at an all-time high and is three times more than it was back in the 1970s.
Some people regard melanoma as not a very dangerous form of cancer, but it can become quite aggressive in some and can lead to fatalities.
If you really want to go the natural route, consider making your own sunscreen instead. You can concoct your own with the following all-natural recipe:
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup beeswax
2 tbsp. zinc oxide
1 tsp. red raspberry seed oil
2 tbsp. shea butter
drops of lavender essential oil if desired
Mix all the ingredients except the zinc oxide in a large glass jar, stir, and cover with a lid. Heat a pot of water on the stove over medium heat. Place the glass jar in this water to allow the ingredients to melt together. Once melted, stir in the zinc oxide and then let stand for a few minutes before transferring to whatever you will keep it in for storage. Just keep in mind this is not a lotion you can pump out like a regular lotion, so container with a lid is more ideal.
Keep this at room temperature and use as needed.
While this may not keep you quite as protected as store bought high-level sunscreens will, it’s definitely a product that will help block out some of the sun’s rays when you aren’t spending a lot of time in the direct sunlight.
Also note that this is not waterproof, so it will not work if you go swimming.
6. Shift Work
If you can avoid shift work in your line of work, do it. It’s not a good idea to force your body to be awake at times it naturally wants to be sleeping and vice versa. Not only are night shift workers more likely to get into accidents caused by carelessness due to fatigue, but they may also be more prone to experiencing cancer as well.
Your body is governed by an internal clock – your circadian rhythm. This is what tells your body when it’s time to go to bed at night and will naturally awaken you in the morning, assuming you weren’t awakened by an alarm clock.
When you force your body to go against these natural processes, that’s when problems tend to occur. When researchers studied the cancer prevalence rate in night shift workers versus those who did not work the night shift, they noted that there did appear to be a higher rate of cancer development in those not sleeping normal hours.
When test subjects were exposed to an abnormal lighting situation, they saw more aggressive and quicker tumor growth than those who were running on the standard 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness schedule4.
Shift work has already proven to be quite hard on the body so it really is something you should reconsider. Even going to bed at a very late hour around 1 or 2 am is not known to be as healthy as going to bed earlier around 9 or 10 and waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning.
While getting enough sleep overall is going to be the most critical thing, the hours in which you are sleeping appear to be especially important.
So there you have a few of the main things that could be increasing your risk of cancer. Keep in mind this list but by no means, exhaust any other factors that may definitely come into play as well. New research is coming out regularly showing additional factors that could be contributing to its development.
The most important thing you can do is take a very holistic look at your life. Don’t just look at one thing in a bubble, instead realize that just about everything you do is either helping you move towards or away from cancer.
The more action steps you take on a day to day basis to move towards healthy living, the better off you will be. Remember that it is never too late to make lifestyle changes for the better. If you’ve been smoking for 30 years, for instance, know that if you quit now, you’ll fare better than if you just keep smoking the rest of your life. So take action and commit to living healthier in an attempt to stay disease free.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly causes cancer?
Cancer is caused by genetic changes in the body that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and tumor formation. Usually, this is the result of DNA damage or genomic instability. In some cases, cancer may be inherited and will show up at a certain stage in life.
How does cancer begin in the body?
Cancer begins when just one cell begins to grow and multiply too much, which is then referred to as a tumor.
What is the biggest cause of cancer today?
The single biggest cause of cancer is smoking, however being overweight, eating a poor diet, and alcohol intake are also leading risk factors for cancer as well.
What is the definition of a carcinogen?
A carcinogen is a substance that leads to carcinogenesis, which is the formation of cancer. Often radioactive substances are defined as carcinogens in the body.
Is there a virus that causes cancer?
Yes, some of the viruses that have been identified as cancer-causing include the human papillomavirus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, Epstein-Barr virus, human T-lymphotropic virus, Merkel cell polyomavirus, and KSHV virus.
2. Dam, Marie K., et al. “Five-year change in alcohol intake and risk of breast cancer and coronary heart disease among postmenopausal women: prospective cohort study.” bmj 353 (2016): i2314