8 Bizarre Things We Think may Cause Cancer

In a world where the cure for cancer is elusive, the list of carcinogenic substances seems to grow exponentially every day. It seems like everything eventually causes cancer, particularly the things we enjoy in life the most. Instead of responding to growing cancer claims with varying levels of hysteria, it may be better to take a level-headed approach to these claims by evaluating just how much substantiated evidence actually exists. In most cases, scientists have linked various things to cancer, but haven’t outright proven anything. The following eight items have been linked to cancer one way or another — some are proven myths, some are inconclusive, and a few of them you may be better off avoiding.

  1. Cellular Phones

    According to the World Health Organization, cell phones emit carcinogens on par with lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform. After peer-reviewed studies, scientists say they have found a link to brain cancer caused by the cell phone’s non-ionizing radiation. Cell phones appear to behave like a smaller, weaker microwave, effectively cooking your brains the same way microwaves cook TV dinners. Aside from cancer-causing tumors, this could also jeopardize our cognitive memory functioning, since the temporal lobe where memories are stored rests closest to where we hold our cell phones. The wireless phone industry responded to these claims with skepticism, as did most of the general public. Yet, The Apple iPhone 4 safety manual even directs its users to keep the phone “at least 15 millimeters away from the body” when conducting calls and listening to voicemail.

  2. Deoderant

    Claims that deodorant has made the list of cancer causing products have circled the web for a while now. The theory is that shaving under the arms produces nicks and scratches that allow the cancerous particles in deodorant to get into the body, causing breast cancer. This idea was perpetuated further by reasoning that men, who do not shave their underarms, are at a lower risk of cancer. In fact, the hair in their armpits supposedly blocks out the toxins in deodorant. Additionally, deodorant (as well as many other cosmetic products) contains parabens, which can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, and increased estrogen has been linked to cancer. Ultimately, most of these ideas were either debunked or inconclusive.

  3. Chemical Straighteners

    The opposite of perms that make your hair poodle-curly are the chemical relaxers, formulated to tame even the kinkiest of curls. In 1997, scientists at Boston University and Howard University began to investigate the possibility that this beauty shop solution could be linked to breast cancer. Why? Chemical relaxers are used predominantly by African-American women, who, by chance, tend to show signs of breast cancer at a younger age than Caucasian women. Although the findings are thus far inconclusive, it’s helpful to have an understanding of why chemical relaxers may be dangerous. A key ingredient in these products is sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide, which is basically glorified lye. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, reports of prolonged exposure to lye have caused esophageal cancer. And, as often as you may try to take shallow breaths while you soak your hair with chemicals, inhaling the stuff is inevitable.

  4. Deli Meats

    More than 58 scientific studies have deduced that hot dogs — as well as all other processed meats — lead to colorectal cancer. In fact, your risk of colorectal cancer increases by 21% for every 50 grams of processed meat you consume. One hundred forty-three thousand Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, which makes sense, if processed meat truly has such an impact. The hot dog itself is an all-American staple. These meats have also been linked to prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and leukemia. Scientists haven’t quite worked out which component of processed meats has such a catastrophic effect on our bodies, but it could be their nitrates, saturated fats, or any other combination of the additives in the meat. In spite of the findings, there are no public service announcements in America warning against the dangers of bacon, hot dogs, and bologna. This could be largely due to the fact that the United States government, which funded the cancer research, also subsidizes the meat we love so much.

  5. Flouridated Water

    The idea that fluoride causes cancer has been debated for years, and these debates gained relevancy once more in 1990 when a study on lab rats conducted by the United States National Toxicology Program showed questionable results. A higher than normal percentage of the male rats had developed osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, when their drinking water was replaced with fluoridated water. Oddly, this was not seen in the female rats or any of the mice, male or female. Theoretically, fluoride may cause cells in growth plates to grow faster, leading to cancerous cells. In 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer noted in their studies that there was no real correlation between cancer and people who lived in areas with a higher fluoride concentration, but there was also not enough evidence one way or another to draw serious conclusions. A Harvard study in 2006 claimed that males who drank water with fluoride were more prone to osteosarcoma than girls, but the study was never published and may not be considered legitimate evidence.

  6. Bras

    In 1995 Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, a husband and wife medical anthropologist team, wrote a book called Dressed to Kill, which caused an uproar over whether or not bras could be considered a carcinogen. According to their findings, women who regularly wore bras all day long had a much larger risk for cancer than women who went braless. Supposedly, bras inhibit lymphatic drainage, trapping cancer-causing toxins inside the breast tissue. Critics appear to have discredited the book, arguing that Singer and Grismaijer didn’t take into account which women in their studies had pre-existing risk factors for cancer. Marisa Weiss, president and founder of breastcancer.org, further argues that underwire doesn’t “trap” the lymphatic fluid, and that it in fact is able to travel up and out of the armpits.

  7. Burnt Food

    Although chemicals found in burnt foods have been linked with cancer, no actual studies have been done to see whether or not rats fed a diet of burnt toast develop cancer. Still, it is probably best to avoid eating burnt foods. Burnt toast contains Acrylamide, which is a chemical produced when sugars and certain amino acids combine while cooking. While many starchy foods contain these chemicals, the higher the cooking temperature and longer the cooking time, the more toxic it is to the nervous systems of animals and humans. Still, in spite of this toxicity, it still doesn’t provide clear evidence of a link to cancer. When some rats were exposed to acrylamide, they developed tumors in their reproductive organs, but factory workers exposed to much higher levels of acrylamide did not appear to have higher cancer rates. Burnt toast also contains polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are pollutants. So while the jury is still out on whether or not cancer is a byproduct of eating burnt foods, you should refrain from eating burnt foods anyway to avoid toxic chemicals and pollutants from entering your body.

  8. Air Fresheners

    If your home doesn’t have a couple of Glade plug-ins, then you probably at least have a can of Febreeze air freshener. These sprays and plugs are made to give your home the fresh scent of lavender, pine, or even warm sugar cookies. However, according to a study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an evaluation of 14 different air fresheners at a local Walgreens stores, a staggering 12 of them contained harmful phthalates. Phthalates are used to carry fragrances and are also used as sealants and adhesives in cosmetics, hair products, and the like. Human and rat studies have shown that prolonged exposure to phthalates can cause cancer, as well as hormone abnormalities and infertility. The FDA does not cast aspersions on phthalates, nor does it require products to list them on their labeling, but phthalates are banned in Europe. It seems that phthalates are a current subject of debate among scientists, as there are disagreements as to how dangerous they are.