Cancer Risks

Exposure to several substances found in the home can increase the risk of cancer, which is the second leading cause of death among adults and children in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, environmental factors including tobacco, chemicals, infectious diseases, and radiation are responsible for three-quarters of all cancer deaths in the U.S. While many adult cancers can be traced to these environmental factors, the causes of most childhood cancers are unknown. Like many environmentally related diseases, cancer disproportionately affects certain populations. It takes a greater toll on African-Americans, who are more likely to develop and die from cancer than persons from other racial and ethnic groups.

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity play a greater role in determining cancer risk than exposure to trace levels of pollutants in food, air, and drinking water. However, the degree of risk from chemical exposure depends on the concentration and duration of exposure. Individuals exposed to high concentrations of cancer-causing substances bear a significantly higher risk of developing cancer. At the same time, widespread exposure to low concentrations of carcinogens can increase the risk of cancer across the population as a whole. For environmentally related cancers, ten or more years typically pass between exposure to cancer-causing substances and detectable cancer.

Several substances that may be found in or around the home, such as radon, some pesticides, asbestos, formaldehyde, and arsenic, are known carcinogens. Becoming aware of these substances and their potential risks is the first step in reducing potential exposures.

More Information

Comprehensive Resource List

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - ToxFAQs - fact sheets with basic information on various environmental contaminants, including cancer-related materials such as specific pesticides, radon and asbestos.

American Cancer Society

American Lung Association

Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) VI Report: "The Health Effects of Exposure to Indoor Radon"

National Cancer Institute - The National Cancer Institute is the federal government’s main agency for cancer-related research, education, and training. It also operates the Cancer Information Service to assist the public in interpreting the results and status of scientific cancer research studies.

National Childhood Cancer Foundation, Children's Oncology Group - CureSearch

Rachel Carson Council, Inc. (information on pesticides)

Silent Spring Institute - researches the links between the environment and women's health


Cancer Information Service: 1-800-4-CANCER [1-800-442-6237]
The National Cancer Institute provides the Cancer Information Service to serve the public in understanding scientific cancer research findings
Su Familia (Your Family): 1-866-SU FAMILIA or 1-866-783-2645
The National Alliance for Hispanic Health sponsors this helpline to offer Hispanic consumers free, reliable and confidential health information in Spanish and English and help navigate callers through the health system.

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