by Markham Heid
Your home should be a safe place. But when it comes to your cancer risk, potentially harmful toxins may be posing adanger to you and your family.
“There are several concerning things that people need to be aware of in the home,” says Lewis E. Foxhall, M.D., vice president of Health Policy at MD Anderson. “That’s especially the case for young children and pregnant women.”
Some of the potential toxins in your home are familiar. Others may surprise you. And the research linking many of these toxins to cancer is inconclusive or ongoing, Foxhall says. “But it’s better to play it safe.”
Don’t smoke in your home
“Cigarette smoke is the most dangerous thing we do to ourselves and the people around us,” Foxhall says.
Smoking is the leading cause of cancer and death from cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s also a major cause of heart disease and stroke. Even those who don’t smoke are in harm’s way, Foxhall says.
If you smoke in your home, you’re exposing the people you live with to secondhand smoke, Foxhall says. “And there are thousands of cancer-causing chemicals in secondhand smoke.”
Roughly 13% of all smoking-related cancer deaths are non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report.
“The cigarette fumes may even contaminate furniture and carpeting. This is known as thirdhand smoke,” Foxhall says. Thirdhand smoke could be particularly dangerous for infants and children playing on the floor.
Check your basement for radon
“Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that may accumulate in homes,” Foxhall says. The gas results from the breakdown of uranium and other compounds in ground soil.
Radon is particularly common in basements and other underground spaces. Multiple studies have conclusively linked it — even at low levels — to lung cancer, according to resources from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Foxhall says radon can occur anywhere, but tends to be more common in mountainous regions. He advises buying a test kit for your home. “If you do have radon, there are steps you can take to eliminate it permanently,” he says.
Read cleaning product labels
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals are a large group of chemicals that may mess with your body’s endocrine system. This
system helps control everything from your sleep patterns and appetite to your growth and development, Foxhall says.
“From lead to pthlates, there are thousands of these chemicals agents,” Foxhall explains. “But again, the evidence linking any one of them to cancer is not conclusive at this point.”
Cosmetics and cleaning products are two common household goods that may contain EDCs, according to a lengthy statement from The Endocrine Society.
Products that contain strong smells or odors may be especially worrisome, but still require further research.
To avoid cleaning products with EDCs, check product labels against the list of Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors from the Environmental Working Group.
Use glass containers
Bisphenol-A – more commonly referred to as BPA – is a chemical found in some plastics. It’s often in rigid drinking and
storage containers, children’s toys and the lining of some canned goods, Foxhall says.
There have been alarming reports linking BPA to cancer. But Foxhall says it’s not clear how much BPA may up your risk.
“Because this chemical may interfere with development, it may be especially harmful to young children or pregnant women,” he says.
Although the exact risks of BPA aren’t known, Foxhall recommends playing it safe. “BPA is a plastic problem,” he says. “Drinking and storing food in glass containers is a good, safe alternative.” Buying BPA-free toys is another safeguard.
Cook food at low temps
There are lots of ways the foods you eat can raise or lower your cancer risk. Experts now warn that acrylamide may be worth paying attention to, Foxhall says.
Acrylamide is a chemical compound that forms when food is cooked at very high temperatures, Foxhall says. French fries and potato chips tend to contain high amounts of this chemical, according to the NCI.
While the risks of acrylamide aren’t well understood, Foxhall says cooking your food slowly and at lower temperatures may help reduce your exposure. Boiling foods, especially potatoes, may also help lower your risk.
Be smart about your choices
Keep this article on your fridge. Use it as a reminder to check product labels for ingredients and warnings, and avoid products with known dangers.
“If you can take steps to lower your cancer risk, that’s a good thing,” Foxhall says. “But just remember: when it comes to cancer and your home, tobacco is by far the largest threat to your health.”