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20 Things Science Has Linked to Cancer

Gabriela Mungarro

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer is the second cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease.

Cancer fundamentally affects the way in which cells grow and divide, resulting in them growing uncontrollably and destroying normal body tissue. All cancer is a result of damage or genetic mutations in our DNA.

There are certain types of cancers that grow out of control and spread due to genetic defects or are incited by genetic changes. However, aside from the genetic factors that we are predisposed to, there are also certain things in our environment that put us at a higher risk of cancer. Factors such as breathing in certain substances, eating specific things, and even using some kinds of plastics increase the risk of developing deadly cancers.

Here are some known carcinogens, as well as other things that scientists are suggesting are cancer-causing culprits.

20. Sugar


Eating too much sugar is known to cause diabetes, but also actively damages your cells and increases the risk of developing cancer. However, that’s not all. Recent research suggests that sugar may fuel tumor growth because cancer uses sugar to spread. “The hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth,” said Johan Thevelein, a Belgian molecular biologist, after the release of his study. The research allows for a better understanding of how sugar and cancer interact and help future patients with a targeted diet.

19. Processed Foods


It’s no secret that any food served in a plastic wrapper, industrially sealed, or designed to last months without spoiling can serve as a great on-the-go fix when hunger calls, but also greatly increases the risk of cancer. French scientists recently found a link between people who eat more processed foods and those who develop cancer. Scientists are not sure whether the problem is the preservative ingredients, the plastic packaging, or a combination of the two, and since the study was correlative, there is a possibility that there are other hidden factors.

18. Smoking


Although the tobacco industry has tried to keep it out of people’s minds, it is a well-known fact that tobacco smoke has at least 70 cancer-causing chemicals inside it. Unfortunately, it is not just smokers who are affected by this toxic smoke, but those who inhale secondhand smoke can develop cancer as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20-30 percent.”

17. Tanning and Unprotected Sun Exposure


According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people who use tanning beds before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. Aside from the harsh light from tanning beds, the sun’s rays are also responsible for melanoma. So taking precautions such as using protective clothing and sunscreen, as well as finding shade whenever possible, is a great idea if you are planning on being out in the sunshine for more than 15 minutes.

16. Toxic Chemicals at Work


People who are exposed to cancer-causing substances at work daily are also highly vulnerable to cancer. Such jobs can include aluminum workers, painters, tar pavers who work with the carcinogen benzene, rubber manufacturers, hairdressers who deal with hair dyes, and nail salon workers who breathe in dangerous fumes.

15. The Night Shift


The International Agency on Cancer classified nighttime work as a probable carcinogen in 2007. Scientists also believe that working during the night and work for extended hours in the darkness can throw the body’s natural sleep and wake cycles out of whack.

14. Arsenic


Arsenic is toxic in its inorganic form and is often found in contaminated drinking water in places such as Bangladesh, or in areas where irrigation systems water crops with arsenic water. The World Health Organization says at least 140 million people in 50 countries drink water containing high levels of arsenic. It is also one of the cancer-causing agents found in tobacco.

13. Charred Meat And Open Flame Grilling


Although smoky steaks and grilled meats may be tender and tasty, they also increase your risk of cancer due to the muscle meats containing compounds known as heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. According to the National Cancer Institute, when meats like beef, poultry, or fish are cooked over an open flame or pan-fried at high temperatures, the fat, and juices that are released into the fire spark flames with the dangerous chemicals inside that are then cooked into the meat. However, it is not 100 percent proven that these chemicals are cancer-causing, but according to lab tests, they have been found to change DNA in various ways that might increase cancer risk.

12. Coal


Coal miners tend to have higher rater of cancer in their lungs, bladder, and stomach. There is sufficient data that suggests miners who deal with coal gasification or inhale coal dust are vulnerable to cancer.

11. Alcohol


Heavy alcohol consumption can put you at high risk of developing several different kinds of cancer, including throat, liver, breast and colon cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “the risk of developing cancer increases with the amount of alcohol a person drinks.” A recent analysis of nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 high-income countries across the world found that drinking large amounts of alcohol is associated with developing all kinds of cancers of the digestive system.

10. Diesel Exhaust


Diesel oil has over 30 components that can cause cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

9. Salt-Cured Meat or Fish and Pickled Foods


Salt-cured fish, which is very popular in China, is found to be high in nitrates and nitrites–known carcinogens in animals that can also cause cancer in humans. The chemical compounds can damage DNA, eventually leading to head and neck cancer. According to the Cancer Research UK, “people from China, or with Chinese ancestry living in the UK, have higher rates of nasopharyngeal cancer than other ethnic groups.” Eating large amounts of pickled foods can also put you at risk of stomach cancer.

8. Fracking


Chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde, which are known to cause cancer, are used in oil fracking and can be released into the air and water.

7. Processed Meats Like Ham, Bacon, and Sausage


The World Health Organization has said processed meats such as hot dogs, ham, bacon, and sausage are cancer-causing foods. This occurs because of the meat that has been treated in certain ways to be preserved or flavored by salting, curing, fermenting, or smoking. The WHO said it is possible that red meats could be linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and there is evidence that suggests it can also contribute to pancreatic and prostate cancers, although the evidence is not definite. By eating one hot dog or two slices of bacon every day, you can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

6. Asbestos


Asbestos was widely used as an insulation material for many years before it was discovered the dust was linked to lung cancer. While asbestos is known to cause cancer, products that contain asbestos are not entirely banned in the US, although the Environmental Protection Agency regulates their use.

5. Glyphosate, a Common Weed Killer Used on Farms


Glyphosate (better known by its Monsanto brand name, RoundUp) is a weed-killer that is commonly used as a pesticide on crops in the US. This toxic chemical has been linked to higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in farmers. Scientists are not entirely sure there is enough evidence pointing to the weed killer being unsafe for our DNA if consumed in foods we eat.

4. Wood Dust


Sawmill workers and cabinet makers who frequently breathe in dust from cutting and shaping wood are more likely to develop cancers of the sinus and nasal cavity than the average person.

3. Birth Control and Estrogens


According to the National Cancer Institute, women who begin menstruating at an early age, go through menopause late, are older at first pregnancy, or never have given birth have an increased risk of breast cancer because they are exposed to more estrogen and progesterone made by the ovaries. Women who are going through menopause and use a combined estrogen-progestin therapy to help ease symptoms may also be at a greater risk of developing breast cancer. Using birth control pills can increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer, although there is some evidence that suggests that being on birth control is associated with a reduced risk of developing other types of cancers, such as endometrial (uterus), colorectal, and ovarian.

2. Viruses


Contracting various types of viruses can increase your risk of cancer. This is due to the viruses triggering changes in cells that can result in cancer. “Some viruses linked to cancer are the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer; hepatitis B and C viruses, which can cause liver cancer; and the Epstein-Barr virus, which may cause a type of lymphoma. Also, the H. pylori bacterium can cause gastric cancer,” according to the CDC.

1. Disaster Sites


Breathing in air that is infused with toxic fumes for long periods can also be a great cancer risk. Scientists have studied New York City firefighters, office workers, and students who returned to downtown Manhattan in the days following the 9/11 attacks and found that they consistently have higher rates of 70 different types of cancers, including breast, cervical, colon, and lung cancers. Also, people who lived near the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster of Chernobyl in Ukraine have developed higher-than-usual rates of lung and thyroid cancers, as well as leukemia.