If we use chemicals that are known or suspected carcinogens in our daily lives (e.g. consumer products, food we eat, etc.) we are increasing our risk for developing cancer.
What seems so simple to me hasn’t been accepted or even talked about in most of the conversations about cancer in the past 60 years. Instead, we hear a lot about cures, research into drugs to cure, and startling statistics about who can expect to develop cancer – currently 41% of our population. (According to National Cancer Institute statistics, cancer will effect 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in the US.)
We hear a bit about prevention, but that conversation seems to have gotten stuck on whether red wine or dark chocolate is better. Up until last week almost no media or cancer support has been focused on the causes of cancer.
As the daughter of a cancer survivor, my whole life has been colored by the tales of radiation and the impact of a young man facing his mortality at 35. Early detection saved my dad’s life, and so did the advances in treatment which happened the decade before he was diagnosed. I have been fascinated by our society’s lack of discourse on the causes of cancer; and downright exasperated by the shushing I’ve received when trying to start the conversation.
Last week, the President’s Cancer Panel released a report that focuses on the “scientific evidence on avoidable causes of cancer from exposure to carcinogens in air, water, consumer products, and the workplace. It also warns of hormonal risks from exposure to Bisphenol-A (BPA) and other toxic plastic contaminants.” The report calls for chemical regulation reform, and warns about the risks facing future generations of infants who are entering the world “pre-polluted,” exposed to chemicals in the womb.
Suggested prevention behaviors include not microwaving food in plastic containers and consuming more organic food. Cancer has been in the public eye for decades, and many people have spent enormous amounts of money and time dedicated to ‘battling’ cancer. Even with these efforts, certain types of cancers have increased.
According to the President’s Cancer Panel Report (2008-09), “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now,” soaring increases in cancer rates from 1975 to 2005 include:
- Malignant melanoma of the skin in adults, which has increased by 168 percent due to the use of sunscreens in childhood that fail to block long-wave ultraviolet light.
- Thyroid cancer, which has increased by 124 percent due in large part to ionizing radiation.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has increased 76 percent due mostly to phenoxy herbicides and phenylenediamine hair dyes.
- Testicular cancer, which has increased by 49 percent due to pesticides, hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, and estrogen residues in meat.
- Childhood leukemia has increased by 55 percent due to ionizing radiation, domestic pesticides, nitrite preservatives in meats— particularly hot dogs–and parental exposures to occupational carcinogens.
- Ovary cancer (mortality) for women over the age of 65, which has increased by 47 percent in African American women and 13 percent in Caucasian women due to genital use of talc powder.
- Breast cancer has increased 17 percent due to a wide range of factors. These include birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapy, toxic hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, diagnostic radiation, and routine premenopausal mammography above a certain level.
Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and chairperson of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, is recognized as an international authority on the avoidable causes of cancer. His most recent book, Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health . . . And What You Can Do about It, dives into the issues and the solutions. Dr. Epstein warns, “Criticisms by the American Cancer Society that the President’s Cancer Panel’s report exaggerates avoidable cancer risks, reflect reckless indifference, besides narrow self-interest.”
We know this is terrifying information and its implications impact not just us, but future generations. Rather than being frozen in fear, The Green Mama encourages everyone to take some simple steps to stay safer. Like…
- Particularly when pregnant and when children are small, choose foods, toys and garden products with fewer endocrine disruptors or other toxins. (Information about products is at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com or www.healthystuff.org.)
- For those whose jobs may expose them to chemicals, remove shoes when entering the house and wash work clothes separately from the rest of the laundry.
- Filter drinking water.
- Store water in glass or stainless steel containers, or in plastics that don’t contain BPA or phthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics). Microwave food in ceramic or glass containers instead of plastic.
- Give preference to food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones. Avoid meats that are cooked well-done.
- Check radon levels in your home. Radon is a natural source of radiation linked to cancer.
(As seen in New York Times)
But don’t stop there!!
- Work to read labels and ingredients lists, and look deeper into all the products for the home.
- If something is cheaper than you can believe, assume it’s made with cheap and potentially harmful ingredients.
- Work to educate yourself and others, and get involved by signing the Safe Chemicals Act.
If you have been impacted by cancer, reach out to others for support and encouragement. Looking into the causes is important and scary; make your changes one-at-a-time, and feel upbeat that you are making your home and your family greener, safer, and healthier.
By Green Mama contributor Cecelia Ungari.
Photos: Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs/Shutterstock, Barbara J. Petrick/Shutterstock, motorolka/Shutterstock, Margaret M Stewart/Shutterstock, ericlefrancais/Shutterstock