Cancer and the environment: Get advice

Focused on Health - July 2013

by Adelina Espat

It’s better to be safe than sorry. That’s the approach experts took in the 2008-2009 President’s Cancer Panel Report on environmental cancer risks.

“Researchers still have a lot to learn about how much the environment contributes to new cancer cases,” says Lewis E. Foxhall, M.D., vice president of Health Policy. “But until more is known, it’s best to take a proactive approach by finding ways to reduce your contact with toxic chemicals and radiation.”

This advice is especially important for kids who are most vulnerable to the effects of toxins in the environment. Kids should be protected as much as possible.

Below are some changes you can consider based on advice from the panel’s report.

mother-environmentChildren and pregnancy

The report urges moms and dads to do their best to avoid contact with toxic chemicals even before a child is conceived. This advice continues throughout pregnancy and during a child’s first years of life, when the risk of damage to the body is greatest. 

One way to keep your child safe is to consider choosing non-toxic options when selecting house and garden products, play spaces, toys and medicines.


home-work-bootsFollow the advice below to make your home a safer environment for you and your family.

  • Remove your shoes before entering your home to reduce exposure to occupational chemicals.
  • Wash work clothes separately.
  • Filter tap or well water.
  • Properly dispose of pharmaceuticals, household chemicals and paints.
  • Reduce or stop using landscaping pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Turn off lights and electrical devices when not in use to reduce the need for electricity, much of which comes from fossil fuels.

Plastic containers

Toxic chemicals may get into your water and food if you use a lot of plastic products. Follow the tips below to lower the chances of this happening.

  • Store water in stainless steel, glass or Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalate-free containers.
  • Microwave food and beverages in ceramic or glass containers.

environment-washing-tomatoesFood choices

Making wise food choices also may lower your contact with toxic chemicals.

  • Choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
  • Wash conventionally grown produce to remove chemicals.
  • Eat meat from livestock raised without growth hormones and antibiotics.
  • Avoid eating processed, charred and well-done meats.

Cell phones

environment-cell-phoneHeadlines about cell phones and cancer risk often flood the news. Bottom line: the largest study to date found no clear connection between the two. But experts agree more research is needed.

You can take precautions to reduce your exposure to radiofrequency by following these tips.

  • Keep calls brief.
  • Use a landline phone for long conversations.
  • Wear a headset when using a cell phone.
  • Text instead of calling.

Medical tests

environment-medicalWhen it comes to medical tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, experts suggest you look at the risks and benefits of each procedure. This is even truer for children. That’s because the use of CT scans in pediatrics has steadily increased in the last two decades, exposing kids to higher risks for radiation-induced cancers.

Discuss with your doctor, or pediatrician, these key points when deciding on the need for an exam:

  • Personal history of radiation exposure
  • Expected benefit of the test
  • Other testing options that obtain a similar benefit

Secondhand smoke

Nearly 3,400 nonsmokers die of lung cancer in the United States each year. And, secondhand smoke deserves much of the blame. Do your best to avoid public places where smoking is allowed. And, make your home and car smoke-free.

Not sure how to ask a smoker to snuff out? Get advice on ways to say, “Don’t smoke around me.”

sunscreen-uvUltraviolet (UV) radiation

More than two million people in the United States are diagnosed skin cancer each year. For the most part, this common cancer is caused by too much exposure to UV rays from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds.

Choosing the right sunscreen — and applying it correctly — can help protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Use these tips to select the best sunscreen for your skin.

Alone, these actions may seem insignificant. Together, however, these small changes may reduce your exposure to everyday toxins. And that may lower your chances of getting cancer.