It seems as though everywhere you turn, you hear about another thing in your life that might cause cancer. Deodorant. Cellphones. Plastic food containers. It all sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Believe it or not, the researchers behind the claims aren’t trying to scare you—or annoy you— to death. They’re trying to help you understand the risks so you can adequately protect yourself. But before you can go about protecting yourself, it’s important to understand exactly which objects and behaviors are actually harmful and which aren’t.
Let’s explore some common behaviors, and determine which ones are most closely tied to cancer, with level 5 being highest risk.
Eating Grilled Food
Risk Level: 2
“While grilling meats at high temperatures creates compounds that have been shown to increase risk in animals, it’s not clear the extent to which they do in humans,” says Colleen Doyle, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. “Some studies do suggest that people who eat a lot of grilled meats have higher rates of stomach, pancreatic, colorectal and breast cancer.”
While the American Cancer Society doesn’t discourage grilling, it does offer the following tips:
- Clean your grill often to remove charred debris.
- Don’t burn meats. If you do, don’t eat those areas.
- Precook meats in the microwave or oven so they don’t need to be on the grill as long. Doyle also suggests cutting back on red meats in favor of seafood and poultry, as eating red meat has been shown to increase the risk of prostate and colon cancers.
Risk Level: 5
“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide,” says Ted Gansler, M.D., director of medical content for the American Cancer Society. “It’s responsible for one in five deaths in the U.S., 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of all lung cancer deaths.” But you’re not necessarily in the clear if you aren’t a smoker. “Each year, about 3,000 nonsmoking adults die of lung cancer due to the effects of secondhand smoke,” Gansler warns.
If you’re a smoker, now is the time to quit. There are many tools to help you succeed. “Ask your physician for help,” Gansler suggests. “Get medication and support. Only a small percentage of people are successful in quitting on their first attempt. So be persistent; it may take several attempts.” If you live with a smoker, ask him or her to smoke outside and never near children. And when choosing hotels and restaurants, select smoke-free options.
Using Tanning Beds
Risk Level: 4
Studies show that people who use indoor tanning beds have a 17 percent greater risk of developing melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) than those who don’t, Gansler says. “And if you start using tanning beds before age 35, you face a 75 percent increased risk of melanoma.
“Whatever color you are, that’s the color you’re supposed to be,” Gansler says. “Don’t do something dangerous to change your appearance.” He suggests avoiding indoor tanning facilities. “And when outside, wear sunscreen [with an SPF of 15 or greater], sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to avoid exposure to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.”
Risk Level: 1
There are no strong studies reporting a statistical link between increased cancer risk and antiperspirant use, according to the American Cancer Society. “This myth began because people thought deodorant blocked the body’s ability to eliminate toxins via perspiration and the toxins backed up into the armpit and caused cancer,” Gansler says. “This is not true. In fact, a study that compared 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women without the disease found no relationship between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use or underarm shaving.”
Gansler maintains that the risk, if any, for the average person is low. But if you have specific concerns, many health food stores sell natural alternatives.
Risk Level: 5
“If you don’t smoke, weight is the next most important risk factor for cancer,” Doyle says. “But you can eat healthy and exercise and still be overweight.” Doyle explains that a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher increases your risk for a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer. “Current patterns of overweight and obesity in the United States could account for up to 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent in women, and contribute to 90,000 cancer deaths each year,” she says.
Doyle suggests calculating your BMI and taking action if it’s 25 or higher. “Reducing your weight by just 5 to 10 percent equates to good health benefits,” she says. “You can do this by watching your portion sizes, getting 30 minutes of exercise five or more days per week and eating more fruits and vegetables to help fill you up.”
“One of the riskiest behaviors for cancer is skipping screenings, says Gansler,. “It’s extremely important to find cancer early enough for it to be easily treatable.”
Use this guide to make sure you’re up to date on your cancer screenings. Be sure to discuss your health and family history with your doctor, as this may affect the frequency of your screenings and the age at which you start them.
Have you had your annual mammogram? Beaufort Memorial’s Breast Health Center offers mammography in Beaufort and Bluffton with same-day results. Call 843-522-5015 to schedule an appointment.