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How to Cancerproof Your EnvironmentWith 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States (with little research into their long-term safety),
here are some simple ways to help keep your family safe.
BY LEAH ZERBE
A World without Cancer
How to prevent cancer…that's the billion-dollar question everyone wants to answer. Although the cancer death rate has dropped nearly 1 percent a year since 1990 and the American Cancer Society estimates that by 2015 the total number of cancer deaths will be 23 percent lower than it was 25 years earlier, there's still much work to be done to truly eradicate the threat of this disease—to actually prevent it.
We turned to board-certified radiologist Margaret I. Cuomo, MD, author of A World without Cancer, to learn how to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals that have ties to cancer. Of course, these steps don't provide a bulletproof shield guaranteeing that you'll never get cancer, but with 80,000 chemicals now sold in the United States—many of them cancer promoting—they can help protect your and your family.
Reduce contaminants at home.
The Problem: Thousands of chemicals hide out in everything from the food you eat to the moisturizer you put on your face day in and day out. Just because these chemicals are allowed in the products you apply to your skin every morning and evening and the treatments you feed your lawn doesn't mean they're safe. The sad truth? Most have never been tested for long-term health impacts.
• Take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking contaminants into your house.
• Eat organic to avoid chemical pesticide residues and potentially dangerous food additives.
• Practice organic lawn care.
• Use safer cleaning products.
The Problem: The majority of canned foods and drinks are sold in cans lined with bisphenol A, or BPA; it's also in thermal cash-register receipts and in some plastic containers, including water bottles made from No. 7 plastic. Despite numerous studies showing a link between bisphenol A and cancer, BPA is still in many U.S. products—and thus, inside of us.
Protect Yourself: Choose fresh or frozen food whenever possible, use glass, ceramic, or food-grade stainless steel food and drink containers (like those from Klean Kanteen) instead of plastic, and say no to trivial cash-register receipts. Be wary of products claiming to "BPA-free," too: A recent study found bisphenol-S, a common replacement, may be just as harmful as BPA.
Phase out parabens.
The Problem: Although there's not a clear cause-and-effect relationship between preservatives called parabens and breast cancer, studies have found traces of the hormone-disrupting chemical in breast tumors, Dr. Cuomo explains in A World without Cancer. Because of parabens' estrogenlike properties, there's a chance the chemicals could stimulate the growth of hormone-related cancers.
Protect Yourself: Check your personal care products. Anything with the word "paraben" on the ingredients list should be avoided. Check Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to rate the overall safety of your products—and to find safer ones. The preservaties are also used in some processed meats, liquid dietary supplements, and snacks and candies.
Minimize dry cleaning.
The Problem: Dry-cleaning your clothing can be quite a dirty matter. The Environmental Protection Agency has dubbed perchloroethylene, the go-to chemical solvent used in dry cleaning, as a "likely human carcinogen."
Protect Yourself: Skip dry cleaning and instead opt for wet cleaning. Many "dry-clean only" clothing can actually safety be cleaned at home. To learn how, read Dry-Clean Only? Nah, There Are Cheaper, Safer Ways.
Be smart about radiation.
The Problem: Depending on where it's done on the body, a CT scan could be equivalent to 100 to 800 chest X-rays, potentially increasing cancer risk. As Dr. Cuomo points out in her book, "While the radiation risk from imaging technology to any given individual is small, the cumulative impact is not—the 70 million CT scans performed in 2007 can be expected to cause some 15,000 to 45,000 new cancers, according to a calculation in Archives of Internal Medicine.
Protect Yourself: Make informed decisions. Ask your doctor why a medical imaging test is ordered, and if it's really necessary. Keep track of how many scans and X-rays you've had, and ask whether an alternative test that doesn't use radiation, such as an MRI or a sonogram, would be appropriate.
Limit cellphone use.
The Problem: As A World without Cancer explains, "Cellphones use radiofrequency waves, a form of electromagnetism that has been classified as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer." Whether cellphones cause brain cancer or not will likely take years of research, but it's probably in your best interest to play it safe in the meantime.
Protect Yourself: Keep your phone away from your head by using speakerphone or texting instead of calling. You can also look for a phone with a lower specific absorption rate (SAR), which measures the level of radiofrequency energy it emits. Check cellphone SAR levels on CNET.
The Problem: In 2010, the President's Cancer Panel made it clear that research into the environmental causes of cancer needs more attention because it's a serious threat to society. Still, several years later, there are few new limits on toxic chemicals in everything from your toothpaste to your sofa cushions.
Protect Yourself: Make meaningful chemical reform a top priority when you're deciding who to vote for in the next election. Write handwritten letters to your representatives and tell them why this issue is important to you. Add your voice to the growing number of voters telling them we shouldn't put products on store shelves if the chemicals in them may cause harm.
A critical, in-depth look to the way we deal with cancer in America, A World without Cancer outlines a healthcare system that focuses on treating cancer—not truly preventing it. Learn how to protect your family and be part of broader movement to reform cancer care in America.
Buy A World without Cancer from your favorite bookseller:
• Barnes & Noble
• Rodale Store