Each year, over a million people will be diagnosed with cancer. Over half a million will die from it, while the rest simply manage it. For some, chemotherapy or radiation therapy send it into remission, where there’s a chance it could come back. Others undergo surgery to remove the tumor, hoping no cancer cells are left behind. Despite the various hardships (which aren’t limited to the aforementioned) that follow a cancer diagnosis, it’s no longer a death sentence.
Medical advancements, better screening techniques, and heightened awareness of early signs have led to a decrease in the number of cancer deaths over the past 20 years. The goal, however, is to not get cancer in the first place. How, though, when cancer seems to just emerge out of nowhere? Smoking, leading a sedentary lifestyle, eating unhealthy foods, and spending lots of time in the sun without protecting your skin are just some ways you’ll increase your risk. And avoiding these known causes will dramatically lower your risk of cancer developing. Going further, some people may even avoid environmental factors that could possibly increase risk, such as living in polluted areas, drinking from plastic bottles, or eating lots of red meat.
With so many common things contributing to cancer risk, it’s easy to get bogged down worrying about each and every thing you do, especially when new studies warn of a new substance, product, or behavior each time. Sometimes, it’s just not true. Other times, there’s just not enough evidence to call it conclusive. Here are five examples of both.
Rumors have swirled all over the world about the possibility that the cellular signals emitted from our cellphones can cause cancer. Studies have even suggested that prolonged talking on our cellphones can cause brain tumors to grow over the course of decades. Considering there are 96 cellphone subscriptions for every 100 people in the world (not implying one subscription per person), it's a good thing cellphones don't cause cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the cellular waves emitted out of our phones' antennas are known as radiofrequency (RF). These waves fall on a spectrum of electromagnetic energy between FM radio waves and microwaves. They're a form of non-ionizing radiation, meaning "they don't have enough energy to cause cancer by directly damaging the DNA inside cells." If RF was to cause cancer, studies would either show a "dose-response relationship," in which higher rates of cellphone use were associated with higher risk of brain tumors, or tumors would grow more often on the side of the head in which people used their phones the most. Yet, no studies have shown these relationships.
Between artificial sweeteners and regular sugar, you're probably better off going with regular sugar — in moderation. Artificial sweeteners containing the chemicals saccharin (Sweet'N Low), aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), and sucralose (Splenda) have been shown to wreak havoc on metabolism, causing increases in blood pressure, "bad" cholesterol levels, and body fat. Altogether, they increase a person's risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. But they don't increase a person's risk of cancer.The idea that artificial sweeteners cause cancer comes from an early 1970s study that found saccharin caused bladder cancer to develop in rats. However, those results couldn't be duplicated in human experiments. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), hundreds of studies on all the aforementioned chemicals turned up no conclusive link with a higher risk of any form of cancer.
If you’ve ever looked at the ingredient list on your deodorant’s label, you might have wondered how the active ingredient, aluminum, is affecting your health beyond clogging up your sweat glands. Women may relate to this the most, since they’re applying that aluminum inches away from their breasts. If enough aluminum is absorbed, will it cause breast cancer?
The prevailing argument is that aluminum causes estrogen-like effects that may promote breast cancer cell growth. Thankfully though, most studies on the topic haven’t found any evidence this is true.
On the subject of parabens, which are typically used as preservatives in deodorants, studies have shown high levels of them in breast cancer tumors. However, these studies didn’t investigate the prevalence of them in healthy breast tissue. At that, the Food and Drug Administration has said most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants don’t contain parabens anyway.
Hair dyes might make you look good but they’re filled with chemicals. So it shouldn’t be surprising that people who regularly get their hair colored, or do the coloring, would be concerned about cancer-causing risks. Studies looking at how these chemicals may affect blood cancers, such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma — from being absorbed through the skin — ended with mixed results, leaning more toward no relationship at all. Other studies looking at links between dyes and breast cancer and bladder cancer found no relationship. However, people who work with the dyes could be at an increased risk, which is why they’re advised to wear gloves when working with the chemicals.
In case you didn't know, those cavities you had filled a while back likely have mercury in them. But they also have other metals, including silver, tin, and copper. According to the American Dental Association, the combination of these metals makes the fillings, known as dental amalgams, completely safe. "It's important to know that when combined with the other metals, it forms a safe, stable material," the ADA says. What's more, the type of mercury used in the fillings isn't the same type (methylmercury) that has been shown to cause health problems.
About the Author
An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.
Contributor since August 21st, 2017