What causes cancer? There is still much to discover about this disease, however, what we do know is that there are more people diagnosed with cancer. The most recent study1 cited that 32.6 million people are living with cancer. With 8.8 million recorded deaths, cancer is one of the leading causes of sickness and death worldwide. One in 6 deaths is due to cancer.
There are five leading behavioral and dietary risks:
2. low fruit and vegetable consumption;
3. lack of physical activity;
4. tobacco use; and
5. alcohol use
Let us break down these risks and other unexpected ones and talk about what you can do to minimize them.
Cancer Causers and Measures You Can Take
1. Location. A recent study in the United States found that counties with the poorest quality land, water, air, built environment and sociodemographic had the highest incidents of cancer. Built environment refers to human-made structures and surroundings, such as houses, buildings, parks, roads and public transportation.2
What you can do: If moving is not an option (it often isn’t), make do by using HEPA air filters and use non-chemical ways of purifying your water. But if your living conditions are not at all ideal, seriously consider moving.
2. Air fresheners and scented candles. In 2016, Prof. Alastair Lewis of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science in the United Kingdom and the team from the BBC Two show, “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” measured air quality in six houses for five days. They identified the following volatile organic compounds: (1) benzene, which came from vehicle pollution outside, (2) alpha-pinene, a type of pine perfume found in cleaning products, and (3) limonene, a citrus scent used for scented products. Three households had extremely high levels of limonene. The data corresponded with the number of scented candles and household products present.3
Limonene itself is not particularly dangerous. However, it can transform into formaldehyde, which is a human carcinogen.
What you can do: Go for unscented products to minimize your exposure. Avoid all forms of synthetic scents, and patronize products that use organic essential oils instead.
3. Alcohol. A 2016 study linked increasing alcohol intake and breast cancer risk for women. The women who increased their alcohol consumption over a five-year period had a higher risk of breast cancer. The same study found women who had a stable alcohol intake lowered their risk. 4
Aside from breast cancer, studies have linked alcohol intake with cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum.5
What you can do: While a glass of wine a day is fine, problems arise when we drink more than what our body can take. Remember that tolerance is not the same as what is healthy. Fortunately, there are better ways to a healthy heart, such as: regular exercise, managing stress and eating a whole food plant based diet.
4. Sawdust. Did you know that wood dusts are carcinogenic? Research found furniture workers and other wood workers were more susceptible to nasal cancer.6
What you can do: Use proper ventilation systems and always protect your respiratory system with certified masks and respirators.
5. Food packaging. Apart from meat and animal-derived ingredients, such as carcinogens, food packaging is also a possible cause. Various food packaging contains perflourinated chemicals (PFCs and PFAs). These include dessert and bread wrappers, sandwich and burger wrappers and paperboards. Their linings, which are stain- and grease-repellent can transfer to the food itself. These PFCs and PFAs are associated with cancer, developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, and other health effects.7
What you can do: If unhealthy food wasn’t enough to convince you to stop eating fast food, maybe this new information on food packaging can. Eat home cooked meals as much as you can.
6. Lack of sunlight. A study found that there are increased risks of certain types of cancer in those who are vitamin D deficient. It also suggested that this deficiency could be responsible for several thousand deaths each year from cancer.8
What you can do: The sun is the best source of vitamin D. Best times are in the mornings from sunrise until 7 am and in the evenings at 5 pm until sundown (this depends on your location and/or season). Avoid overexposure especially around noon.
7. Night owl. Working till late or having night shifts, can increase your risk for cancer. A research study at MIT found that physiological disruption of the circadian rhythm accelerates lung cancer. The findings revealed that both systemic and somatic disruption of circadian rhythms lead to cancer progression.9
What you can do: The circadian rhythm is how our bodies automatically react to the external environment in a span of about a day. Try to follow your natural environment, by following regular work hours and avoid staying up late.
8. Sitting down. Researchers analyzed 43 studies involving 4 million people and 68,936 cancer cases. They concluded that sedentariness increases cancer risk even among active individuals.10
What you can do: The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week for adults. This does not include regular activities like taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator or household chores. Children are advised at least an hour of moderate or vigorous exercise every day. They can do vigorous exercise at least three days per week.
I advise walking as much as you can – going to work, at work, going home. Set reminders for you to stand up and stretch or walk when your job entails a lot of sitting down. Don’t be afraid of looking like an idiot for doing things a little different. You just might encourage others to do the same, once they hear your reason.
We live a world where cancer and other health problems are becoming more and more common. There are a lot of risk factors surrounding us. However, this should not make us afraid of living a full life.
At the beginning of this article we listed the top 5 behavioral and dietary risks: obesity, low fruit and vegetable consumption, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol use. Tips that could help you stay healthy are: regular exercise (swimming, yoga), adopting a whole food plant based diet, meditation, and so on.