Cancer and Health: 13 Surprising Habits That Can Increase Your Risk
According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, killing around 9 million people in 2018. In the US, it was estimated that over 1.7 million new cases of cancer would be diagnosed in 2018, and of these cases, 609 640 people would die from the disease. Moreover, the number of new cases of cancer per year is predicted to rise to 23.6 million by 2030 (1).
With some alarming statistics, it’s no wonder that people are looking at various ways in which they can reduce their risk of developing the disease.
Granted, there are a few obvious factors that have been linked to the development of cancer, mainly cigarette smoke, and genetics (which accounts for about half of all cancers). Yet, there also exist other habits linked to the disease that one would never expect.
What exactly causes cancer?
Cancer is caused by the changes and damage done to one’s genes over time. These deformities are either inherited through genetics, or they occur as a result of exposure to cancer-causing substances, known as carcinogens. Some carcinogens may not directly cause damage to the genes. However, they can still increase the risk of cancer by causing cells to divide at a faster than normal rate.
According to the American Cancer Society, alongside information provided by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the US National Toxicology Program (NTP), there are currently 250 unusual known carcinogens.
With that in mind, let’s delve into the surprising ways that may raise your risk of developing the disease.
Surprising Habits That Increase Your Cancer Risk
1. Avoiding the sun
Yes, increased and unprotected exposure to the sun can be damaging. Yet, that doesn’t mean that one should avoid it completely.
Exposure to the sun helps the body absorb vitamin D, which may help to reduce the risk of cancer. In fact, research published in the journal Breast Cancer Research suggests that a correlation exists between lower levels of vitamin D and increased cancer risk.
If you want to increase your levels of vitamin D, without overdoing your sun exposure, you can go for a run, a walk or even go work in your garden.
2. Being a constant flyer
A 2015 meta-analysis published in the journal JAMA Dermatology found that pilots and cabin crew are exposed to more UVA rays than the average person.
The aircraft may block the radiation, yet the UVA rays can still penetrate through the windows.
At this time, more studies are needed to establish a stronger link. However, it’s still important to take precautions. You can do so by always applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen before boarding.
3. Buying toxic makeup
Personally, I love a great beauty buy. However, it’s important for me to always read the ingredients on each cosmetic product before purchase. This is because some of the ingredients may increase my risk of cancer.
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization that looks to raise awareness about the various toxic chemicals that we may come into contact with within our everyday lives. In regards to skincare, the organization focuses on the ingredients that may cause the growth of cancer cells. These include:
4. Carrying excess weight
Having a high body weight increases your risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, stroke, as well as cancer. It also appears that this risk can begin during one’s teenage years.
According to a study published in the journal Cancer, overweight adolescents face an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Separate research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 40% of cancer cases were linked to higher body weight (2). Overweight and obese individuals were facing double the risk of cancer of the esophagus, stomach, liver, and kidney.
Consuming a healthy, nutritious diet and regularly exercising will help you to manage your weight.
5. Driving a diesel vehicle
Research from the WHO, courtesy of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, revealed in 2012 a strong association between diesel engine exhaust fumes and an increased risk of lung cancer and bladder cancer (3).
Those facing an increased risk are truck drivers, miners, and construction workers. Reduce your exposure to diesel emissions by keeping your car windows rolled up in areas of heavy traffic. You should also try to avoid heavy highway routes and not live near warehouses. Lastly, keep your indoor air clean.
6. Eating processed meats
In 2015, the World Health Organization classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogenic. Cigarettes and arsenic are both included in this category.
Try cutting back on your intake of processed meats. Rather try to increase your consumption of seafood, particularly salmon.
7. Having a drink (or three)
The link between alcohol consumption and cancer has been studied for years. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognized alcoholic beverages as known human carcinogens and since then there have been various studies that have been aimed at proving, or disproving this argument.
Last year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology revealed that approximately 5% of yearly new cancer cases worldwide and 6 percent of yearly cancer deaths were directly linked to the consumption of alcohol (6).
When consumed, the body metabolizes the ethanol found in alcohol and turns it into acetaldehyde. This compound can then damage both DNA and proteins in the body. This may then increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer.
Various studies have linked alcohol consumption to the development of oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast cancers (7). In fact, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that increased alcohol consumption was once linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
That said, some may argue that cancer is only associated with excessive drinking. Yet, there has been research showing that even light or moderate drinking may still raise the risk of cancer. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted there is no safe level of alcohol consumption when it comes to breast and liver cancer.
With all of that in mind, if you’re still looking to consume alcohol, rather opt for red wine and do your best to only drink a glass a day.
8.Lighting scented candles (or spraying air fresheners)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revealed that a chemical found in scented candles, most notably benzene and toluene, may increase one’s risk of cancer once breathed in (8).
Aside from scented candles, other synthetic scent products, such as air fresheners, may also affect your health. Limonene is an ingredient that helps to provide products with a citrus smell. Unfortunately, when released into the air, limonene can create formaldehyde – a compound linked to the development of cancer.
9. Putting your meat on the grill (and overcooking it)
If you’re looking to have a barbecue this weekend, you may want to cancel.
When red meat is cooked at high temperatures, it releases chemicals, particularly heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which have been linked to cancer as they cause changes to one’s DNA (11).
If you’re not looking to cut back on your meat consumption, try not to overcook your meat. Additionally, be sure to use vinegar-based marinades instead of a store-bought marinade. Research published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that store-bought marinades rich in added sugars and high-fructose corn syrup can increase the absorption of HCAs.
10. Sitting for hours on end
When it comes to your health, sitting could truly be the new smoking.
Our jobs may require us to sit in front of a laptop all day. However, opting not to take a break every few hours may increase your cancer risk.
Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that one increases their risk of cancer every two hours that they spend sitting. Specifically, there was an 8% increased risk of colon cancer, a 6% risk for lung cancer, and 10% risk of endometrial cancer. What’s more, the findings were regardless of whether or not participants led active lifestyles.
If you have a desk job, it’s important that you do your best to take regular breaks, maybe purchase a standing desk or you could even go for a quick stroll around the office park.
In addition, it’s important that you continue to lead an active lifestyle outside of the office as the World Health Organization linked a sedentary lifestyle to approximately 25% of breast and colon cancers.
11. Storing food in plastic containers
BPA is a hormone found in the lining of plastic food containers and water bottles. It’s an endocrine disruptor, which means that it can affect hormonal health. This, in turn, may increase the risk of breast cancer.
If you want to protect your health, then it’s best to switch to glass, ceramic and stainless steel containers.
12. Using the wrong sunscreen
Sunscreen is an essential tool that helps protect against the damaging effects of the sun’s rays. This, in turn, reduces the risk of skin cancer. However, using the wrong sunscreen may do the opposite and encourage cancer growth.
Oxybenzone, avobenzone, and homosalate are toxic sunscreen ingredients that produce free radicals. This production may lead to DNA damage, which then increases the risk of the disease. As a result, it’s important to keep an eye out and to always read the label when purchasing sunscreen.
13. Working the night shift
It appears that the millions of Americans that are working the night shift may be facing an increased risk.
Working the night shift can affect your circadian rhythm, which helps to determine sleep patterns. The World Health Organization cited circadian disruption as a probable carcinogen in 2007. A study published in the journal Annals of Medicine found a strong link between an increased risk for the disease and men who worked the night shift.
What’s more, a study from Canada suggested that the link between the increased risk of breast cancer and nurses who were working the night shift may have been linked to melatonin suppression (12).
You may not be able to avoid the night shift. However, it’s important to do your best to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
What about my electronic sidekick?
We’ve all heard stories about how excessive cellphone use will lead to cancer. How factual are these statements?
Similar to previous research, a 2013 study published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research suggested that using your cellphone before bedtime may increase your risk of developing the disease. What’s more, the California Department of Public Health, in 2017, released guidelines to help minimize people’s exposure to radio-frequency energy from cell phones.
With all of that in mind, it might come as a relief to read that no link exists between the electromagnetic signals from cellphones and people’s risk of the disease. The research, which was gathered over a 10-year period and published courtesy of the National Toxicology Program, found that there was no evidence proving that the levels of radio-frequency radiation that people are exposed to when using cellphones would lead to the development of cancer.
The bottom line
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Thus, it’s important to educate yourself on how you can reduce your risk and protect your health. Leading an active lifestyle and consuming a balanced, nutritious diet will help to protect your health. One should also stay clear of any chemically processed food and products.