Everything’s a carcinogen, so stop worrying about it

After losing a loved one to breast cancer, my family was left wondering what had triggered it in the first place. Each doctor we spoke with seemed to have a different idea of what the cause might have been: childhood x-rays, extended use of oral contraceptives, extra weight above the waist—the list goes on.

With endless possibilities and hardly any answers, my family was overwhelmed with an unshakable health anxiety.

First went the microwave. Doctors thought it was possible that standing in front of a microwave while in use could potentially cause cancer, so we kicked ours to the curb. Next went the processed foods, many of which contain multitudes of carcinogens. We went almost wholly organic (long before it was trendy), replacing potato chips with whole-grain crackers and packaged cheese with giant hunks of untouched cheddar.

Down the carcinogen-ridden rabbit hole we fell.

Having been raised in a household that experienced cancer’s wickedness first hand, I can confidently say that I am highly attuned to what sorts of things cause it—and highly susceptible to worrying about them.

Recently, when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle determined that coffee could cause cancer due to acrylamide, a carcinogenic chemical created when coffee beans are roasted, my natural instinct was to worry. As a college student and human being, coffee is oftentimes a vital factor in successfully navigating my day to day life. Learning that it is now tied to cancer-causing chemicals was upsetting, to say the least.

Since cancer first influenced my own life many years ago, it seems as though the chances of being affected by the disease are ever increasing. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are now over 500 agents classified as certainly, probably, or possibly carcinogenic for humans.

But when confirming carcinogens, scientists forget to mention this one, small detail: almost everything is a carcinogen. Alcohol? Carcinogen. Air freshener? Also a carcinogen. Grilled meat? Yes, and even more so when burnt—not to mention the smoke coming off the grill! Even sunscreen, a product whose sole purpose is to prevent skin cancer, can be tied to skin cancer.

With each discovery, it becomes clearer and clearer that essentially anything can cause cancer. So why bother worrying about it!

This is not to say you should completely forgo a healthy lifestyle because of the imminent consumption of a carcinogen here or there. Certainly, some activities have been determined to be significantly more dangerous than others. Tobacco smoke, for example, contains over 4,000 chemicals—70 of which are known to propagate cancer.

But coffee? The popular morning drink has been proven to have many health benefits that far outweigh its disadvantages.

“Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer,” researcher Donald Hensrud wrote on the Mayo Clinic website. “Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.”

By allowing the stress of possible outcomes to outweigh the reality of probable outcomes in health situations, we inhibit our ability to live our lives fully. So drink coffee, eat steak, and bask in synthetically fresh air, because life is far too short to deny yourself of its benefits out of fear.  


Published by The Daily Iowan 4/5/18


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