An estimated 41 percent of all Americans born today will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). We are surrounded by cancer risks, and it is hard to pinpoint a direct cause for many cancer cases. Still, there are ways to reduce potential exposure cancer risks in your home by eliminating or reducing tobacco, radon, asbestos and other chemicals.
The NCI reports that about 30 percent of cancer deaths are linked to tobacco use, making it the biggest single risk factor. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home, as those who are around smokers may also be at risk. Roughly 3,000 lung cancer deaths are connected to second-hand smoke exposure, and living with a smoker increases the lung cancer risk among non-smokers by at least 20 percent
If you live in an apartment or other shared housing and are exposed to smoke from other units, try to block vents or other entry points for the smoke. If that doesn’t work, you may have legal recourses. If another tenant is violating a non-smoking lease, ask the landlord to confront that neighbor. Moreover, at least one state — Utah — classifies tobacco smoke as a legal nuisance, and you may be able to sue if the smoke interferes with your “comfortable enjoyment of life.”
Radon is the second cause of lung cancer after smoking, and it is even more prevalent in U.S. homes. Radon is naturally occurring in the environment, and seeps into the home through foundation cracks, bare crawl space floors and other openings.
Regularly test your home for radon levels. At least one in 20 homes has excessive radon, requiring a specialized radon ventilation system.
Unlike radon, asbestos was intentionally brought into our homes in a broad range of products. Asbestos is strong, sound-absorbent and heat-resistant, which made it popular for insulation, siding, shingles, flooring and more. Industry officials may have known about the cancer risks of asbestos since the 1930s, but only stopped widespread asbestos use in the 1970s.
Asbestos may remain in many of these products, but undisturbed asbestos does not pose a health risk. Take care with remodeling around old insulation and other products that may contain asbestos. Always wear a tight-fitting mask, and take other precautions. Avoid inhaling the small asbestos fibers.
A wide range of other chemicals and materials in the home may pose cancer risks to a lesser degree. These include:
- Formaldehyde: Long-term exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to cancer. People who work around formaldehyde face the greatest risk, but any homeowner may be exposed to formaldehyde in plywood, particle board and other pressed-wood products. The chemical also is in some paints, varnishes and other products.
- Arsenic: Groundwater contaminated with arsenic has been linked to various forms of cancer. However, Americans are more likely to be exposed to arsenic in pressure-treated wood in decks, playgrounds and other outdoor equipment. Arsenic was no longer used in such wood after 2003, but it still may be present outside many homes.
- Pesticides: Though we typically worry about pesticides on our vegetables, many people overlook the pesticides used around the home. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75 percent of households use a pesticide each year, an 80 percent of pesticide exposure occurs indoors.
- Solvents: Benzene and many other chemicals are linked to cancer, and are found in household products, including paint removers, paint thinners and many other items. Always use such items outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.