It’s well-known that certain lifestyle behaviors like smoking and excessive sun or tanning-bed exposure can cause cancer. But those are not the only everyday, sometimes surprising, choices that can put you at higher risk for cancer.
Cancer is caused by changes in cell DNA. Some changes may be passed down from our parents in the form of genetic defects, while others could be caused by environmental factors. The substances, situations and exposures that can lead to cancer are called carcinogens, according to the American Cancer Society. While some carcinogens don’t affect DNA directly, they can lead to cancer in other ways — by causing cells to divide at a faster than normal rate, for example.
Here are six everyday situations that that you may not have known were carcinogenic.
Weight in Adolescence: Esophageal Cancer and Gastric Cancer
A recent study published in Cancer had physicians in Israel follow 1 million Israeli men for up to 40 years to determine how certain health and lifestyle factors from their adolescence affected their risk of gastro-esophageal cancer later in life. The results showed that teenage life can have a big impact on cancer outcomes. The researchers found that for adolescents who were overweight, with a BMI in the 85th percentile or higher, risk of esophageal cancer was 2.1 times higher. The researchers noted that previous research has shown higher cancer incidence in overweight adults, and this suggests the correlation extends into adolescence.
The researchers also found that teens from lower socioeconomic classes and those who had little schooling had a heightened risk of these types of cancers.
Alcohol: Breast, Colon, Liver, Esophageal Cancer Risks
Alcoholic beverages were listed as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1997, and numerous studies on a variety of cancers have shown an alcohol-cancer link. A new study, published in the April 2013 issue of theAmerican Journal of Public Health, finds an even stronger link between cancer and alcohol deaths. Researchers from the Boston University schools of Medicine and Public Health found that alcohol resulted in about 20,000 cancer deaths in 2009, accounting for about 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States that year.
The researchers also found that each alcohol-related cancer death accounted for an average of 18 years of potential life lost in those who died. The new data serves as a reminder that alcohol is a carcinogen, even when consumed in moderate quantities. According to the data analysis in the study, average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30 percent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths. The strongest links between alcohol and cancer deaths were to breast cancer, esophageal cancer, colorectal cancers, and liver cancer.
Grilled Meat and Fish: Colorectal and Prostate Cancer Risks
Cooking beef, pork, fish, or poultry using high-temperature methods, like pan-frying or grilling over an open flame, can form chemicals called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to cancer in animals, according to theNational Cancer Institute. In 1999, a large-scale study published in the journal Cancerfound well-done or grilled red meat was associated with an increased risk of colorectal adenoma, a precursor to colorectal cancer.
A more recent study, published in the journal Carcinogenesis, found cooking red meats at high temperatures, especially pan-frying, can increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer by as much as 40 percent.
Sunscreen: Possible Skin Cancer Risk
By now, everyone knows that ultraviolet radiation from the sun and UV lamps at fake tanning salons can cause skin cancer. But did you know the stuff you put on your skin to shield it from the sun’s rays may also increase your cancer risk by damaging cells?
A recent study by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology found that when exposed to sunlight, zinc oxide, which is an ingredient found in many brands of sunscreen, undergoes a chemical reaction that could release unstable molecules known as free radicals. These molecules try to bond with other molecules and in the process can damage DNA in the cells, which could increase the risk of skin cancer. The researchers said tests on a possible zinc oxide-cancer risk are still in the early stages, so they recommend continuing to wear sunscreen rather than forgoing any type of protection when you’re out in the sun.
Working the Night Shift: Possible Breast Cancer Risk
Working the night shift isn’t just harmful to your sleep schedule, it could also increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. In 2007, shift work that involves circadian disruption was listed as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Epidemiological studies found that women who worked overnight as nurses and flight attendants had a higher risk of breast cancer than women who did not work at night. One possible reason is the disruption of the circadian system that is caused by exposure to light at night. “This can alter sleep-activity patterns, suppress melatonin production, and deregulate genes involved in tumor development,” according to the IARC.
Diesel Exhaust: Lung Cancer Risk
While the noxious smell of diesel exhaust may remind you of bus trips or weekend getaways, it could also increase your risk of lung cancer. The IRAC began classifyingdiesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans in 2012 based on “sufficient evidence that exposure is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer.” A study published in the Annals Of Occupational Hygiene was based on research by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health involving more than 12,000 mine workers. Researchers found an increase in lung cancer rates among those exposed to diesel exhaust underground, with greater exposure linked to higher cancer rates. In those with the highest exposure, the study found deaths from lung cancer tripled.