Environmental Causes of Cancer
Between 65 and 85 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States can be linked to non-inherited or environmental causes. Of these deaths, up to 60 percent can be blamed on voluntary lifestyle choices, such as smoking, poor nutrition or inactivity.
According to the Cancer Incidence Surveillance System (OCISS) of the Department of Health, death rate from cancer in 1996 was the thirteenth highest among the 50 states, mainly due to ranking in the top ten for cigarette smoking, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, unutilized cancer screening services and lack of physical activity among adults.
Because of the many variables that can contribute to the development of cancer, it is often difficult to prove the cancer-causing ability of these environmental situations. While it is known that smoking, long hours in the sun or daily workplace exposure to asbestos can significantly increase the risk of cancer, the affects of secondhand smoke, tanning beds or low doses of radiation are less clear.
In order to better evaluate environmental causes of cancer and the extent of their impact on humans, every two years the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services releases the Report on Carcinogens (RoC). Prepared by the National Toxicology Program, the RoC identifies substances — such as metals, pesticides, drugs and natural or synthetic chemicals — and situations that are “known” or “reasonably anticipated” to be human carcinogens.
The “known” category is reserved for substances for which there is sufficient evidence to indicate a clear relationship between exposure to the substance and human cancer. The “reasonably anticipated” category includes substances that display limited evidence of an ability to cause cancer in humans, or those that demonstrate sufficient evidence of causing cancer in animals.
The year 2000 publication of the report includes the following:
Additions to the “known” category;
- Secondhand smoke and smokeless tobacco
- Consumption of alcoholic beverages
- Solar UV radiation, sunlamps and sun beds
- Cadmium (used in coating metals to prevent corrosion)
Additions to the “reasonably anticipated” category;
- Diesel exhaust particulates
- Chloroprene (used in the production of rubber)
- Phenolphthalein (used as a laxative product)
- Trichloroethylene (used in adhesives, lubricants, paints, varnishes and pesticides)
Deletions from the “reasonably anticipated” category;
- Ethyl acrylate (used in the production of latex products and as a synthetic flavoring in consumer products)
To view the entire report, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services online.
While the cancer-causing ability of controversial threats such as pesticides, nuclear power plant emissions and radiation from radio waves, microwaves and cellular phones has not yet been determined, it is important to remember that you can significantly reduce your risk of cancer by making lifestyle choices that limit your exposure to known carcinogens.
Call the Health Alliance for more information on the healthy living topics listed below.
- A Guide to Heart-Healthy Eating
- Eight Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer
- Why and How to Quit Smoking
- Breast Self-Exam cards for the shower
- Testicular Self-Exam cards for the shower
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