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Beware these 5 everyday cancer causes

By Robert Elsenpeter, Contributing writer
Published On: Oct 05 2011 10:15:53 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 05 2011 10:43:53 PM CDT
closeup of doctor surgeon in surgical mask

Adam Ciesielski/SXC

It goes without saying that cancer is a horrible disease. But there's some good news: We're surviving more often than not. In fact according to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for all cancers diagnosed between 1999 and 2006 was 68 percent, up from 50 percent between 1975 and 1977.

The organization attributes this to progress in early diagnosis and treatment.

But another good way to improve your odds against cancer is to recognize what you are doing -- and what's in your environment -- that could putting you at a higher risk for cancer.

Not to be alarmist, but the things we do every day, and take for granted, might increase your risk for different cancers. You don't have to totally change your life and go live in a tent in the woods, but there are some things to be cognizant of that can help you, starting with where you live ...

neighborhood with houses lined up

No. 5: Where you live

The term "cancer cluster" is a name given by epidemiologists and public health workers to describe an area where multiple people have all developed cancer. The concern is even more pronounced when those people all have the same type of cancer.

Cancer clusters occur in places where environmental factors make them more likely. For instance, they are often seen around power lines or where toxic waste has been improperly disposed of.

Of course, if a power plant's neighbors suddenly develop the same type of cancer, the neighbors might assume that the power plant is the source of the trouble. But the power plant owners would be eager to point to stacks of research and documentation -- bolstered by subsequent investigation by health officials -- showing that their company couldn't possibly be the source of trouble.

No matter who is right, being near a cancer cluster might be cause to consider moving.

But wherever you move, you're still going to have to deal with dirt. Which brings us to our next risk ...

concrete brick wall in basement

No. 4: Radon

Most of our homes have radon detectors. It's sort of a chic domestic thing these days, and they give us a sense of security. But what do you do it the detector goes off? And what is radon, anyway?

The No. 2 cause of lung cancer doesn't come from something like burning tires or wearing bad cologne. It comes from an unlikely source -- the ground beneath your feet.

Radon is a gas that occurs in the ground and then permeates through your basement to affect your home. It occurs naturally, so it's not something that you can blame on the neighborhood strychnine factory.

Radon is something that you can test for. A kit costs about $20, and you can install a radon alarm that can help sniff out trouble. What do you do if radon is detected? A radon remediation system costs between $1,000 and $2,000.

burnt barbecue ribs off grill

No. 3: Overcooking meat

If you watch cooking shows, preparing a steak or burger well done causes the chefs to curl their noses in disgust. While that sentiment is food snobby, there is some health logic behind it. There is evidence to support the statement that overcooking meat can increase the risk of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Science time: The culprit seems to be heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals are formed when meat -- including beef, pork, fish and poultry -- are cooked using high-temperatures, like pan frying or grilling over an open flame.

This doesn't mean you have to go vegan, wear hemp and change your name to Moonbeam.

According to the National Cancer Institute, HCA and PAH formation can be mitigated by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface. If also helps if you reduce cooking time and use a microwave oven to partially cook the meat before you take it to high temperature sources.

Once you've eaten all that tasty grilled meat, you might want to work it off ...

obesity in America

No. 2: Obesity

As if being shamed vicariously through "The Biggest Loser" hasn't been enough to encourage you to lose weight, here's a really good reason to drop those excess pounds: Being overweight has been linked to a number of different types of cancer from breast cancer to colorectal cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancers of the colon, breast, endometrium, kidney and esophagus are associated with obesity. Some studies have also reported links between obesity and cancers of the gallbladder, pancreas and ovaries.

In 2002, about 41,000 new cases of cancer in the United States were estimated to be due to obesity. This means that about 3.2 percent of all new cancers are linked to obesity.

Ideally, we'd all have 12 percent body fat and compete in triathlons for fun. Realistically, that will never happen, but you needn't go that far. Even a small weight loss can help reduce your risk of cancer.

Stop us if you've heard this last one ...

smoking cigarette with ash

No. 1: Smoking

When the surgeon general talks, it's a good idea to listen. So when you pick up a pack of cigarettes and there's that surgeon general's warning on the side, that's good information to pay special attention to.We all know smoking is bad, and the National Cancer Institute makes these observations about smoking:

  • Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 443,000 deaths each year, including approximately 49,400 deaths due to exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States. Ninety percent of lung cancer can be blamed on smoking.
  • Smoking causes many other types of cancer, including cancers of the throat, mouth, nasal cavity, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Basically, in case you haven't figured it out by now, if you smoke: Stop.

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