What everyone should know about what can cause cancer

Do deodorant and cell phones really cause cancer? We help you sort fact from fiction when it comes to cancer risk factors

What everyone should know about what can cause cancer

Source: Web exclusive, April 2011

You’ve probably heard all kinds of information about what can cause cancer‘from cell phones to stress. But have any of these ideas been proven? Gillian Bromfield, senior manager of cancer control policy with the Canadian Cancer Society, says cancer is a frightening disease and we want to protect ourselves from getting ill, so rumours can start about risks. But the truth is, only a limited number of risk factor have been proven by reputable research‘such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking. Here’s the real story behind the most common rumours about cancer:

Myth: The 21st century lifestyle can cause cancer

Truth: ‘We have not seen an increase in rates,’ says Bromfield. That means you’re just as likely to get cancer at any given time in your life as people in past generations. We are seeing the number of cancer cases rise in Canada, simply because we’re living longer, and older people are at higher risk. Improved treatments have lengthened survival times and even cured some cancers’the death rate for breast cancer has gone down 30 percent since 1986.

Myth: Deodorant causes breast cancer

Truth: Most breast cancers appear in the upper-outer area of the breast, near the armpit, a fact that inspired the fear that deodorants and antiperspirants cause cancer. (However, this is where much of our breast tissue sits, so it’s logical cancers form there.) Meanwhile, there’s a worry that aluminum compounds’an ingredient in antiperspirants’have hormonal mimicking qualities, as do parabens, which are in an array of personal care products. But several large studies conducted over the last 10 years have come up with conflicting evidence and the Canadian Cancer Society doesn’t list deodorant as a threat.

Myth: A negative attitude can cause cancer

Truth: There’s long been talk that being overly stressed out puts you at risk for developing tumours. And, conversely, a positive approach during treatment means you’re more likely to beat cancer. What does science have to say? There could be a link between stress and some virus-related tumours such as Kaposi sarcoma and lymphomas, but this has not been definitively proven. Meanwhile, some studies have suggested that depressed people are more likely to die from cancer. While the reason hasn’t been determined, the higher mortality rate could mean that depression impacts the immune system, or depressed people don’t adhere as well to treatment.

Myth: Only sunburns lead to skin cancer

Truth: Many people love how they look with a tan and simply avoid burning to keep skin cancer at bay. However, any considerable sun exposure ups your risk. Research links basal cell carcinoma to occasional bad burns, while long-term exposure’the kind that may result in a tan’is more likely to lead to squamous cell tumours. Fortunately, these cancers are often treatable. However, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma, has been linked to very intense ultraviolet exposure. That’s why using tanning beds increase your risk of the disease by 75 percent.

Myth: Cell phones lead to brain tumours

Truth: The debate over whether radio frequencies’which is a mild form of radiation’from cell phones are leading to brain cancer is a hot issue, especially since so many of us have gone wireless. Researchers are taking this concern seriously and have run numerous large trials. But the biggest, the 13-nation Interphone study, which was published in 2010, found no relationship between regular cell phone chatting and tumours. And, despite our increased exposure to cell phone frequencies, brain cancer is not on the rise. ‘We’ve seen brain cancer and mortality decrease over the last ten years,’ says Bromfield. ‘But we often hear the opposite.’

Update: In May 2011, a team of scientists from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that hand-held cellphones are ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans, and that cellphone radiation could increase the risk of certain types of brain cancers.

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