During the course of our day-to-day lives, we inevitably come in contact with cancer-causing substances, or carcinogens. While we may be able to avoid exposure to certain carcinogens in the environment, others are much harder to avoid, since they often can’t be seen, smelled, tasted or even felt.
In order to better understand which environmental factors can increase your risk for cancer, read on to learn more about the top cancer-causing elements you might encounter in your daily life.
It’s no surprise that tobacco is a major cancer-causing agent. While we all know that smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer, tobacco use can also cause mouth cancer and cancer of the larynx (voice box cancer). Because smoke from cigarettes and the residue from chewing tobacco can be ingested, tobacco use can also increase risk for stomach cancer and cancer of the esophagus (food pipe). Since the carcinogens from tobacco use can also circulate through the bloodstream, tobacco can cause an elevated risk for other cancers, including cancer of the pancreas, liver, kidney, bladder and cervix.
If you smoke or use tobacco, quitting is strongly recommended. If you are not a smoker, avoiding secondhand smoke wherever and whenever possible is also highly recommended.
Overexposure to the sun's harmful UV rays can lead directly to non-melanoma skin cancer—which tends to develop after years of constant exposure to the sun—and to the more serious form of skin cancer, melanoma.
While the sun is an important source of vitamin D, it is always important to limit your exposure to the sun during peak hours (11am-3pm). Remember to spend time in the shade when outdoors for extended periods of time, and always use sunscreen with a minimum SPF level of 15 (higher is always better) and adequate UVA protection.
There are a number of carcinogens that may be found in and around the home, including radon (colorless, odorless, radioactive gas), asbestos (once used in building materials), lead (found in paint and ceramics) and hair dyes and other cosmetics. For more detailed information on the risks associated with these substances and others that may be found in your home, click here.
At work, especially if you work at a manufacturing or chemical plant, you may come in contact with a variety of cancer-causing chemicals including arsenic, asbestos, benzene or formaldehyde. While you may not be able to completely avoid exposure to these substances, you should always take the appropriate safety precautions and wear the recommended protective clothing when in close proximity to any of them. You can learn more about workplace risk factors and exposure here.
Air and water pollution is another source of potential contact with cancer-causing substances, including benzine and radon. Obviously, living in a bubble is not an option, but avoiding polluted bodies of water and staying inside when there are air pollution advisories is always a good idea.
Finally, exposure to high concentrations of X-rays and gamma rays can cause cancer. Exposure to these types of radiation can occur in variety of ways, including medical testing, medical treatments, and—in much smaller amounts—in some food and consumer products and airport security scanners. For more information on X-rays and gamma rays and their correlation with cancer, click here.