LOS ANGELES, 8 APRIL 2013
Dear EarthTalk: I know that some of us are genetically
predisposed to get cancer, but what are some ways we can avoid known
environmental triggers for it?
Cancer remains the scourge of the American health care system, given
that four out of every 10 of us will be diagnosed with one form or another
during out lifetime. Some of us are genetically predisposed toward certain
types of cancers, but there is much we can do to avoid exposure to
carcinogens in our environment.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit
working to protect public health and the environment, a key first step in
warding off cancer is lifestyle change "stopping smoking, reducing
drinking, losing weight, exercising and eating right." The American Cancer
Society reports that smoking and poor nutrition each account for about
one-third of the 575,000 U.S. cancer deaths each year.
But smoking and obesity are obvious and other cancer triggers arent so
easily pinpointed. In 2010 the Presidents Cancer Panel reported that
environmental toxins play a significant and under-recognized role in many
cancers, causing "grievous harm" to untold numbers of Americans. And EWG
reports that U.S. children are born "pre-polluted" with up to 200
carcinogenic substances already in their bloodstreams.
Given this shocking fact, it may seem futile to try to reduce our
bodies chemical burden, but it could be a matter of life and death. EWG
lists several ways anyone can cut their cancer risk. First up is to filter
our tap water, which can include arsenic, chromium and harmful chemicals.
Simple carbon filters or pitchers can reduce contaminants, while more
costly reverse osmosis filters can filter out arsenic or chromium.
The foods we choose also play a role in whether or not we get cancer.
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is healthy, but not if they are laden
with pesticides. Going organic when possible is the best way to reduce
pesticide exposure. And when organic foods arent available, stick with
produce least likely to contain pesticides (check out EWGs "Clean 15"
list of conventional crops containing little if any pesticide residue).
EWG also suggests cutting down on high-fat meats and dairy products:
"Long-lasting cancer-causing pollutants like dioxins and PCBs accumulate
in the food chain and concentrate in animal fat."
Eliminating stain and grease-proofing chemicals (Teflon, Scotchgard,
etc.) is another way to cut cancer risks. "To avoid them," says EWG, "skip
greasy packaged foods and say no to optional stain treatments in the
home." And steer clear of BPA, a synthetic estrogen found in some plastic
water bottles, canned infant formula and canned foods. "To avoid it, eat
fewer canned foods, breast feed your baby or use powdered formula, and
choose water bottles free of BPA," reports EWG. Personal care products and
cosmetics can also contain carcinogens. EWGs "Skin Deep" cosmetics
database flags particularly worrisome products and green-lights others
that are healthy.
Another cancer prevention tip is to seal wooden outdoor decks and
playsets those made before 2005 likely contain lumber "pressure-treated"
with carcinogenic arsenic in order to stave off insect infestations. Of
course, avoiding too much sun exposureand wearing high-SPF sunscreen
when using those decks and playsets is another important way to hedge
ones bets against cancer.
CONTACTS: EWG, www.ewg.org; Presidents Cancer Panel, http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp.
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