What Chemicals Cause Cancer?

Prostate cancer risk has been linked to a number of environmental and other toxins, and now the recently released President’s Cancer Panel Report on Environmental Cancer Risk has warned that “environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” The link between environmental chemicals and cancer is clear.

The New Environmental Cancer Risk Report

The Panel’s report noted that approximately 80,000 chemicals are on the market in the United States, and many of them, which are used by millions of Americans every day, are poorly studied, have not been studied at all, or are unregulated. Such overall lack of responsible oversight and understanding of these chemicals means that “exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread,” according to the Panel.

The Panel experts point out that children are at great risk for cancer due to environmental toxins and need to be protected. That protection should include stronger regulations for environmental contaminants and the use of safer alternatives to the currently used chemicals.

What You Can Do Now To Reduce Cancer Risk

Although eliminating cancer risk is far from simple, the Panel notes there are many things Americans can do right now every day to reduce their exposure to cancer-causing environmental substances. Adopting these preventive measures can help protect you and your family against the dangers of environmental chemicals and cancer.

Choose organic foods as much as possible, which will significantly reduce your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones (the latter two contaminants are found primarily in conventionally raised meat and dairy foods).

Avoid or minimize consumption of charred, processed, and well-done meats to limit your exposure to the cancer-causing substances heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Buy products that are free of the endocrine-disruptor BPA. BPA exposure can come from canned foods, plastic water bottles, and plastic containers for foods. Instead, choose foods stored in glass or tetra packaging and use glass, stainless steel, or BPA-free containers.

Stay away from products that may contain phthalates, an endocrine-disruptor that belongs to a class of chemicals used as softeners in polyvinyl chloride products. Such items include children’s toys, cling wrap, plastic food storage containers, shower curtains, building materials, vinyl flooring, and some personal care products such as shampoos, lotions, and cosmetics.

Do not microwave food or beverages in plastic because chemicals can leach into the food when heated.

Remove your shoes when entering your house, especially if you work with or around chemicals.

Use nontoxic products to keep pests out of your garden, such as beneficial insects and diatomaceous earth.

Use filtered tap water rather than commercially bottled water.

Properly dispose of medications, paints, solvents, and household chemicals to minimize contamination of drinking water and the soil.

Check your home periodically for radon exposure. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

Avoid use of the antibacterial agent called triclosan, an endocrine disruptor, which is used in products such as soaps, deodorants, and cleaning products.

Turn off lights and electrical devices when they are not in use.

Do not smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. Especially do not expose children to smoke.

Protect yourself against ultraviolet radiation by using sunscreen and wearing clothing that protects you against the sun.

Question the necessity of undergoing any test or procedure that involves exposure to radiation, such as mammograms, CT scans, and radiation therapy. Keep records of any imaging tests you receive and, if possible, the radiation dose for each test.

Reduce electromagnetic energy exposure from cell phones, text rather than call when possible, keep calls brief, and use a headset.

Walk, bike, take public transportation, and/or drive a fuel-efficient car when possible to help reduce the amount of toxins emitted into the environment.

Women and men considering pregnancy should avoid exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and known or suspected carcinogens before conception, throughout pregnancy, and early life, when the risk of damage is greatest.

Specific Environmental Carcinogens

Specific potential and known cancer-causing contaminants named in the Panel’s report, and a few common places they are found, include:

Aromatic amines (e.g., benzidine; in pesticides, rubber production)

Asbestos (old ceiling tiles, building materials)

Arsenic (pesticides, wood preservatives)

Benzene (exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, glues)

Beryllium (medical devices, combustion of coal and fuel oil)

Butadiene (in production of tires, adhesives, paints, footwear)

Cadmium (plastics, fertilizers)

Chromium (dyes, wood preserving, steel production)

Ethylene oxide (disinfectant, pesticides)

Formaldehyde (particle board, carpets, drapes)

Hair dyes

Lead (batteries, ceramics)

Mercury (dental fillings, batteries)

Methylene chloride (pesticides, solvents)

Nickel (nickel plating, batteries)

Polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs; banned in 1979 but still in the environment)

Silica (sandblasting, foundries)

Styrene (food containers)

Sulfuric acid (cleaning fluid)

Talc (pottery, paper, paint, cosmetics)

Toluene (gasoline, solvents)

Trichloroethylene (TCE; degreaser)

Wood dust (carpentry, furniture making)

Xylene (gasoline, paint, thinners)

Reference

President’s Cancer Panel Report on Environmental Cancer Risk. April 2010