Myths and Facts About Cancer-causing Household Items

Myths and Facts About Cancer-causing Household Items

Everything under the Sun including the Sun can cause cancer, or so it feels when you read articles online. But how many things really do?

Every time I open my Facebook, there is at least one article about one of my favourite things causing cancer. When I see it, I do a quick fact check on and then comment my findings on the post. And so, I thought, I should just collate these together and present the facts, separating the myths.

Human body and carcinogens

But before I begin, let us understand cancer. Though the same term is used to describe it, each type of cancer is different. Some are caused by radiation, some by toxins, a few by viruses. But the common theme is, the body tries to fight back before it gives in.

A few things, like smoking, have an established link to lung cancer. However, when we talk about cancer-causing things, it is not after a single-use. There is no set limit, so the idea is to make you aware of the potential danger. If you give up everything, Himalayas would not have enough space to accommodate every one of you!

So, I am going to tell you if the thing causes cancer, might cause cancer, or does not cause cancer. However, if a new evidence comes up, this may change, so don't be surprised.

Alright, let's begin.

1# Hair dye

There was a recent article where a doctor stated that hair dyes can cause breast cancer.

Fact check: The dyes manufactured before 1980 have been liked to cancers. The newer hair dyes are generally safe, however, hairstylists are at a risk due to the daily exposure. Based on its review of the evidence, the IARC Working Group concludes that personal use of hair dyes is “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.

Source: NIH National Cancer Institute, USA

Verdict: Safe for personal use

2# Sausages and processed meat


Processed meat is not sold fresh. Instead, it is preserved by curing, smoking, salting, or otherwise preserving in some way ( for instance, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, ham, salami, and pepperoni). This does not include physical processes like freezing meat or mincing. 

Fact check: Processed meat, along with red meat, increase the risk of bowel cancer. Even eating 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog a day increases the risk of bowel and pancreatic cancer by 18%. White meats like fish, poultry, and seafood do not. 

Source: Cancer Research, UK, World Health Organization

Verdict: Try fresh meats instead of processed, and limit the consumption of these meats. 

3# Barbeque food, pan-fried meat

Red meats and smoked meats are thought to cause cancer.

Fact check: High temperature attained during pan-searing, deep-frying, or barbequing meat creates carcinogens in the food. Frequent consumption of such meat has been implicated in causing colorectal, pancreatic, and prostatic cancer. Red meat also increases the risk of cancers of the digestive system.

Source: World Cancer Research Fund

Verdict: Avoid frequent consumption of such meats

4# Microwave

A few authentic-sounding websites have been spreading scare about a microwave. And so, many people stay away from this handy device as they are scared of its bad effects on the body.

Fact check: Microwave causes the same changes in food as any other conventional cooking method would cause. So, if you follow the instructions, microwaves cause no harm to the body or destroy the nutrition. Same goes with reheating food sensibly. 

Source: Cancer Council, Australia

Verdict: Safe

5# Plastics

Plastics get a bad rap as they are not environment-friendly. However, a few people avoid the use of plastics as much as possible. In fact, parents are scared about using it, and it is not helped by the email forwards from a well-wishing aunt who does not fact-check. 

Fact check: BPA is not cancerous. Plastics are safe. You can reheat stuff in it as long as it is microwave-safe. Plastics do leech chemicals in food and water, but they are in minuscule quantities. The cling film is safe as well, but avoid using it in an oven. Milk can be warmed up in plastic bottles/containers, however, check the temperature before feeding your baby. Don't microwave the breastmilk. 

Source: Cancer Research UK, The European Food Safety Authority

Verdict: Use safely

6# A glass of wine a day


A glass of wine with dinner is thought to be good for your heart. 

Fact check: Even a glass of wine each day increases the risk of breast cancer in women. However, social drinking is alright. One should not exceed 8 units of alcohol in a week. 

Source: NHS, UK

Verdict: Don't drink daily

7# Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is one of the 'scary' ingredients found in your favourite instant noodles. It gives it the umami taste, brothy and savoury. It has been notoriously linked to the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, where patrons complained of numbness, weakness, drowsiness, nausea and headache after consuming food with MSG. 

Fact check: MSG is safe in moderation, although because of the high salt content of the instant noodles, it may cause health issues. It is not a carcinogen. 

Source: Cancer Council, Western Australia

Verdict: MSG is not a carcinogen. That said, avoid instant noodles for children to avoid obesity. 

8# Handphones and wifi routers

Myths and Facts About Cancer-causing Household Items

We all have read scary emails and Whatsapp forwards about the harmful radiations of cellphones and cellphone towers. 

Fact check: Studies are inconsistent about the use of cell phones. However, more clarity will be reached as time goes by. That said, there are issues with handphone use in children as prolonged exposure of the blue screen is not good for them.

Wifi routers and even power lines do not emit ionising radiations. The radio waves emitted by a wifi router are of very low power, so they do not cause cancer.

Source: NIH, National Cancer Institute, USA; Cancer Research UK

Verdict: Limit handphone use, especially in children. Wifi routers are safe to use. 

Mums and dads, cancer is bad, but with lifestyle changes, a few of them can be avoided. Work towards your health and keep your children safe. 


Also read: Cervical cancer survivor warns us not to ignore this unusual symptom

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Written by

Anay Bhalerao

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