These Popular Things Increase Your Cancer Risk, Experts Warn
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease, according to the CDC—but thankfully, many cancers are preventable. "We will always need good treatments," says Timothy Rebbeck, Ph.D. "But we can't treat our way out of this problem. In order to make a dent in a public health sense, we must prevent cancer." Here are five popular things that may increase your cancer risk, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Eating Too Much Junk Food
Numerous studies link unhealthy, ultra processed fast food with an increased risk of cancer. "You can make an informed choice by doing research to find out the nutritional content of a particular fast food item," says Nancy Geib, RD, LDN. "All of the major restaurants should have that information online or be able to hand it to you in the restaurant, if you ask."
Bad news for couch potatoes—studies show that binge-watching can increase your risk of cancer. "Previous research suggests that watching TV may be associated with other behaviors, such as smoking, drinking and snacking more, and we know that these things can increase the risk of bowel cancer," says Dr. Neil Murphy of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). "Being sedentary is also associated with weight gain and greater body fat. Excess body fat may influence the blood levels of hormones and other chemicals which affect the way our cells grow, and can increase bowel cancer risk."
While vaping hasn't been around long enough for scientists to do long-term studies, doctors are worried about the possible side effects. "In the last 24 to 36 months, I've seen an explosive uptick of patients who vape," says Johns Hopkins lung cancer surgeon Stephen R Broderick, M.D. "With tobacco, we have six decades of rigorous studies to show which of the 7,000 chemicals inhaled during smoking impact the lungs. But with vaping, we simply don't know the short- or long-term effects yet and which e-cigarette components are to blame… We do know that smoking tobacco forces tiny particles to be deposited deep in the bronchial tree and can lead to the development of cancer. The same may be true for vaping."
"We know that alcohol increases the risk for several cancers, including oral cancer, pharynx and larynx cancers, colorectal and esophageal cancers, as well as liver and breast cancers," says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. "We recognize that most Americans are not going to abstain from drinking alcohol completely. So, if they are going to drink, at least we can offer some guidance on what moderate drinking looks like. The important thing to remember is that every time you drink, you increase your cancer risk. As with cigarettes and processed meat, there is no safe amount of alcohol."
According to the Cleveland Clinic, tanning beds are strongly linked to skin cancer: You are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma by regularly using tanning beds. "Tanning booths increase your risk of melanoma a ridiculous amount because they use really unnatural levels of UV light that you're never exposed to in nature," says melanoma researcher Sylvia Lee, MD.