Lee: Everything’s a carcinogen, so stop worrying

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Joseph Cress

A Keurig coffee machine is seen during a ribbon cutting event for the Hilton Garden Inn on Clinton Street on Thursday, Nov., 30, 2017. (File Photo/The Daily Iowan)

There’s no point in stressing about what causes cancer because everything does. Don’t live in fear, life is too short.

Ella Lee

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After losing a loved one to breast cancer, my family was left wondering what had triggered it. Each doctor we spoke with seemed to have a different idea of what the cause might have been: childhood X-rays, extended use of oral contraceptives, extra weight above the waist — the list went on.

With endless possibilities and hardly any answers, my family was overwhelmed with an unshakable health anxiety, and immediately began taking action to prevent a similar tragedy from affecting us again.

First went the microwave. The doctors were fairly certain that looking into a microwave while it was heating up food could potentially cause cancer, so we kicked ours to the curb. Next went the processed foods, many of which contain multitudes of carcinogens. Long before it was trendy, we went almost wholly organic, replacing potato chips with whole-grain crackers and packaged cheese with giant hunks of untouched cheddar.

Down the carcinogen-ridden rabbit hole we fell.

Having been raised in a household that experienced cancer’s wickedness firsthand, I can confidently say that I am highly attuned to what sorts of things cause it — and highly susceptible to worrying about them.

When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle determined that coffee could cause cancer because of acrylamide, a carcinogenic chemical created when coffee beans are roasted, my natural instinct was to worry. As a college student and human being, coffee is often a vital factor in successfully navigating day-to-day life. Learning that it is now tied to cancer-causing chemicals was upsetting, to say the least.

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Since cancer first affected my life many years ago, it seems as though the chances of being affected by the disease has heightened. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are now more than 500 agents classified as certainly, probably, or possibly carcinogenic for humans.

But when confirming carcinogens, scientists forget to mention this one, small detail: Almost everything is a carcinogen. Alcohol? Carcinogen. Air freshener? Also a carcinogen. Grilled meat? Yes, and even more so when burnt — not to mention the smoke coming from the grill. Even sunscreen, a product whose sole purpose is to prevent skin cancer, can be tied to skin cancer.

With each discovery, it becomes clearer and clearer that essentially anything can cause cancer. So why bother worrying about it?

This is not to say you should forgo a healthy lifestyle because of the imminent consumption of a carcinogen here or there. Many have been proven to be significantly more dangerous than others. Tobacco smoke, for example, contains more than 4,000 chemicals — 70 of which are known to propagate cancer.

But coffee? The popular morning drink has been proven to have many health benefits that far outweigh its disadvantages. Over the years, many studies have been conducted on coffee that show it provides many incredible health benefits.

“Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer,” researcher Donald Hensrud wrote on the Mayo Clinic website. “Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.”

By allowing the stress of possible outcomes to outweigh probable outcomes in health situations, we stunt our ability to live our lives fully. So drink coffee, eat steak, and bask in synthetically fresh air, because life is far too short to deny yourself of its benefits out of fear.

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