As caregivers, we work to ensure the safety and happiness of the loved ones we support. We try our best to protect them from potential harm. However, often when we think of cancer, we think of a disease that’s completely out of our control.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in people over 65, second only to heart disease. The power of this one word can change a life completely – bringing anxiety, burden and heartache to all those it touches. However, most cancer diagnoses are actually preventable, according to the World Health Organization.
Throughout the month of February, survivors, patients, advocates and caregivers have been supporting National Cancer Prevention Month. Each year, this month is dedicated to highlighting lifestyle adjustments which can help safeguard health and lower cancer risk.
Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use are often discussed as cancer-causing – but what about lesser known environmental factors? Some of the materials we surround ourselves with every day have been shown to increase cancer risk.
These materials are considered carcinogens and can be just as dangerous as a pack of cigarettes. If you see a substance labeled “known cancer risk factor” or “known carcinogen,” it means that researchers have found that material hazardous because it increases the risk of cancer.
Looking out for carcinogens may seem like a daunting task – but starting out small can help ease the anxiety while mitigating risks and improving overall health.
So, Where Is The Risk?
We often assume that our home would be safe from hazards. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the health of a home greatly impacts those living in the space. Unfortunately, many people are still unaware of the direct link between their housing and their health. Common household hazards which increase your risk of developing diseases like cancer include the following.
The health of the home often begins at its core, with the materials used to create the structural elements. Although the U.S. government has created tighter regulations in the last few decades surrounding the use of both formaldehyde and asbestos, these carcinogencic materials can still be found in homes today.
Asbestos is a toxic fiber that was most often used as insulation in the construction of residential and commercial buildings between the 1940s and 1980s due to its affordability and resistance to heat, fire and electricity. But when the material is disturbed and its particles release into the air, asbestos becomes incredibly hazardous. When inhaled, the fibers can embed into the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen, mesothelioma cancer can develop.
Formaldehyde is also found in the home – the chemical is highly flammable, produced both industrially and naturally and often found in building materials and household products. Potential sources of formaldehyde in the home include pressed-wood products, tobacco smoke, gas stoves, wood-burning stoves and kerosene heaters.
This chemical is also be present in some cosmetics as well as beauty products such as lotions, shampoos and conditioners, although the levels found in these products are typically not considered to be hazardous. Inhaling formaldehyde gas can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Research suggests that high levels of formaldehyde exposure may cause cancer.
In addition to the materials used to build your home, there is risk in where your home was built. Certain regions in the United States have higher levels of radon, a radioactive gas released through the natural decay of rocks in the soil. Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Exposure to radon is responsible for roughly 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the EPA.
Radon is invisible, tasteless and odorless and can travel from the ground into your home through cracks in the walls and foundation. Since the chemical is emitted from the soil, levels are usually highest in the basement or the lowest floors of the home.
Once inside your home, radon gas accumulates. According to the EPA, one in 15 homes in the U.S. has radon levels at or above the EPA’s recommended safety level. Testing your home is the only way to determine if you have elevated radon levels.
Plastics in Bottles and Food Containers
The health risks associated with Bisphenol A, or BPA, came to light in 2008 when reports of its toxicity started to make headlines. Some 10 years later, we’ve learned that this industrial chemical used for over 40 years to harden plastics is indeed harmful to the human body.
Studies show that BPA exposure is prevalent in the U.S., with detectable levels of BPA present in 93 percent of tested urine samples. Elevated rates of exposure to this chemical have been linked to the development of breast and prostate cancer.
Most exposure to BPA comes from eating food or drinking water stored in BPA containers – anything labeled as a number 7 or 3 plastic may contain the chemical. You can reduce exposure to BPA by not microwaving food in plastic containers, ensuring that the plastic used is not marked with recycle codes 3 or 7, reducing the use of canned foods, and opting for glass or stainless steel food containers whenever possible.
Lowering Risks to Safeguard Your Health
Although there’s still a lot we don’t yet know about cancer, limiting exposure to known cancer-causing toxins, can help you protect yourself and your loved ones from the cancers that we know most about.
Through education and lifestyle adjustments, the chance of a painful battle with cancer may be reduced. In light of National Cancer Prevention Month, take a moment to investigate the health of your home to help ensure the health of those you love.