Though it’s still unknown what exactly triggers it, roughly 39.6% of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. What we do know is that cancer is one of the leading causes of death and as such, we want to try and avoid getting it as much as possible

Plenty of things are well-known contributors to cancer risk, such as poor diet, hormonal imbalance, and chronic inflammation, but there are others that you might be exposing yourself to without even realizing it. Here are eleven things that you may be doing or exposing yourself to on a daily basis that might be linked to increased cancer risk.

Where You Live

Cities, towns, and counties with poor air quality, land, water, and other sociodemographic and environment factors are at the highest risk for cancer, with poor air quality and built environment (things like major highways).being the main contributors. This is the same for both men and women, with breast and prostate cancers being the most prevalent.

Scented Products

Candles and air fresheners make our homes smell fantastic, but research shows that they’re probably doing more harm than good. Most contain limonene, a synthetic chemical that’s used to create citrus scents. When this synthetic chemical is released into the air, it reacts with the ozone to create formaldehyde which has been linked with various cancers. More research is needed before this data can be considered conclusive, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

By reducing the number of scented products you use (think everything from scented candles to antiperspirant), you could significantly reduce your risk of getting these cancers.

Indulging At Happy Hour

Researchers in Denmark published a study last year linking alcohol consumption and an increase in breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. It found that women who amplified the amount of alcohol they consumed over a five-year period had an increased risk of breast cancer, but also a decreased risk for heart disease.

It’s not just a risk for women, though – Head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer and colorectal cancer are also linked to alcohol consumption.


Though you’ve probably heard of some of these, sawdust is a surprising one. Hardwood dusts are the worst offender, but any wood dust is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Woodworkers are obviously the most at risk, but anyone who enjoys working with wood should take heed.

To reduce your risk, make sure that you’re always wearing a dust mask or respirator that’s certified to keep the wood dust out of your lungs and sinuses, and try to work in a well-ventilated area whenever possible.

Food Packaging

While it’s true that the food you put into your body plays a role in our cancer risk, the packaging that it comes in might also be something to consider. Fast food packaging often contains grease and stain-repelling linings; the chemicals in those linings are linked to everything from increased cancer risk to reproductive issues.

It’s almost impossible to avoid these types of linings when you’re eating out, but you can decrease your exposure to them by eating fresh foods as often as possible and avoiding paper plates and other tableware when you can (they often have the same chemicals).

Some Sunscreens

You might wear sunscreen because you’ve heard that too much sun can cause cancer, but – while that’s true – you should be choosing that sunscreen carefully. The ingredients you want to avoid are para amino benzoic acid, octyl salicyclate, cinoxate, dioxybenzone, phenylbenzimidazole, homosalate, menthyl anthranilate, octocrylene, methoxycinnamate, parabens, and oxybenzone.

If you’d like to try making your own sunscreen so that you know exactly what’s in it, all you need is coconut oil, non-nano zinc oxide, and shea butter.

Not Enough Sun

Sure, you don’t want to head outside and bake all day long or you’re going to up your risk of skin cancer, but we still need vitamin D and the sun is always going to be our best source of it. Some ways that you could get outside and soak it up are going for a walk in the park, camping, or even just sunbathing for a half hour.

Viruses and Bacteria

No one likes getting sick, but certain viruses – such as Epstein-Barr (more commonly referred to as mononucleosis) and HIV – can actually contribute to your cancer risk. Last year, a study was done that Epstein-Barr may contribute to the growth of malignant breast cancer because breast cells bonded to the EBV virus and transformed into an aggressive cancer

People with HIV have a higher risk of developing certain kinds of cancers as well. As a matter of fact, when people with HIV develop these cancers it’s often referred to as an AIDS-defining condition because if someone with the virus happens to develop one of these cancers, it might be a sign of developing AIDS.

Working The Night Shift

It’s estimated that nearly 15% of Americans work the night shift. People obviously can’t help when they’re scheduled to work (for the most part) but, unfortunately, these people may be at an increased risk of developing cancer at some point in their life. This is because our bodies run on a circadian rhythm (basically, we should be sleeping when it’s dark and awake when it’s light out) and by staying up working all night, we’re throwing it off.

If you’re someone who works the night shift, all you can really do is try to find a job that will allow you to work a more normal schedule. Here’s an MIT study that shows what happens when mice are exposed to 8 hours of extra light every two or three days. Granted, we’re not mice but many studies that have been done of them have proved to be relevant to humans as well.

Charred Food

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t eat burnt meat because of the carcinogens, but even starchy foods like potatoes and toast can increase your cancer risk. Any starchy food baked, broiled, or fried at over 248 degrees Fahrenheit seems to create acrylamide formation. Acrylamide is a chemical that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has called it a “possible carcinogen”, but since studies have only been done with large amounts of the chemical on animals, it’s still unclear whether or not the chemical will actually cause cancer.

You know that you should cook your meats at lower temperatures in order to avoid burning the meat you cook, but did you know that what you’re putting on the meat before you cook it is just as important? The Cancer Research Institute of Hawaii found that cooking meat in marinades or cooking sauces from the store can actually triple the amount of HCAs (toxic, carcinogenic compounds that can also be found in cigarette smoke).

Experts recommend that to combat this, we cook our foods at lower temperatures and remove it from the oil/oven/etc. before it becomes burnt.


Almost everyone knows that a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for developing a whole host of diseases but, as it turns out, working in 30 minutes of exercise a day isn’t enough. A 2014 German study compared various levels of sedentary lifestyles and found that, regardless of how physically active the participant was otherwise, each 2-hours of sitting time increased their cancer risk.

If you’re forced to spend most of your day in an office, try and get a standing desk or exercise ball to keep you moving. If that’s not possible, try to set reminders for yourself to get up and stretch every once in a while or walk around while you’re on a call.


While – given that there’s not a whole lot we can to do avoid our environment– we’re not ever going to be able to completely eradicate our cancer risk, education can go a long way for prevention. Live an active lifestyle, eat well, and try to reduce your exposure to chemicals and environmental pollution and you’ll be doing well.

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