Toxic Chemicals and Cancer Prevention


This page is dedicated in loving memory to
Lucille Surabian Dadd Roxanne Monoogian Surabian Kathleen Ross Dadd DeMai Steffan



There are many things we all can to to both eliminate exposure to substances that cause cancer and to strengthen our bodies to be more immune to carcinogens we encounter. Two excellent books that give a broad overview of ways you can prevent cancer are Avoiding Cancer One Day At a Time: Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer and Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic. Each of these books has different information and its own perspective and it’s worth taking a look at both of them (click on the links for descriptions).

I have always believed that the best way to “cure” an illness is to prevent it from occuring before it begins. Eliminating toxic chemicals from your home is one way to do this.

With 80-95 percent of cancers having an environmental component, there is much we can do to prevent it–simply by eliminating exposure to those factors that cause it.

Smoking from 1950 until now has decreased from nearly 50 percent of adults to less than 25 percent. Yet during same time period, the incidence of cancer has been rising steadily (though in 2006 seem to be falling slightly). So most cancers are not caused by tobacco–only one-third are due to smoking.

Many toxic chemicals we are exposed to every day in average American homes cause cancer. Other toxic chemicals weaken the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

When I was growing up–from age 7 to 20–I lived in Concord, California. My mother died of cancer there and so did others on our block. Later I learned that our neighborhood had been designated a “cancer cluster” because we were downwind from industrial releases from factories.

Our immune systems were damaged. My mother died of cancer at age 51 and I developed an immune system disorder known as environmental illness (EI) or multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). I recovered by removing toxic chemicals from my home.

Many years ago, after I worked in the office of an immunologist. I asked him if–since my family had a cancer history–if I would die of cancer, too. He said no because…I had removed the toxic chemicals from my home and was doing things to strengthen my immune system. And I have now outlived my mother.

There are so many toxic exposures in the home that contribute to cancer that I can’t possibly cover them all on this page. They are covered quite thoroughly in Everyday Cancer Risks and How to Avoid ThemAvoiding Cancer One Day At a Time: Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer, and Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic.

My book, Toxic Free, tells how to eliminate many toxic chemicals and carcinogens from your home. It tells where these chemicals are found in everyday products we all use in our homes, and gives “safe solutions” for replacing them with nontoxic products. Debra’s List will tell you where you can purchase products online that do not cause cancer.

To get you started, I’ve chosen my “Top Ten” cancer exposures in the home and am going to tell you what you can do to eliminate them.


Even if you are careful to only choose nontoxic products to use in your home, every time you go outdoors you bring toxic chemicals back inside on the soles of your shoes. Chemicals can include asphalt, pesticides and herbicides from lawns and gardens and sidewalks, and any number of other chemicals that may be present where you walk.

When you walk around your home with toxic chemicals on the soles of your shoes, they come off on the floor. Then when you walk barefoot around your home, they can be absorbed through the soles of your feet. You can also inhale these chemicals as they outgass. If you have children playing on the floor, the toxic chemicals can get on their hands and into their mouths. Children, and especially infants, are even more susceptable to the dangers of toxic chemicals and carcinogens than adults.

The solution is to leave your shoes at the door. Have a rack set up next to the door you enter most frequently, where you can leave your shoes when you enter the house. Have slippers or socks ready to put on if you don’t want to go barefoot.

And remember to make provisions for guests and have slippers or socks available for them too.


Cleaning products contain some of the most toxic and carcinogenic chemicals you’ll find in your home. Air fresheners, all purpose cleaners, disinfectants, dry cleaned clothing, and mothballs are some of the worst.

There are now many nontoxic and natural cleaning products available at your natural food store and online. Visit Debra’s List: Natural Cleaning Products for links to some websites that sell them.

The Cleaning page of Debra’s Bookstore has other books with many homemade formulas, and the my Green Living Q&A blog has many posts from readers about how they clean their homes without toxic or carcinogenic chemicals.


Pesticides also cause cancer. Instead of spraying carcinogens around your home, there are natural means for controlling pests.

Before you take any action to control a pest, onsider if it’s actually necessary to kill it. What we generally consider to be pests are living things that are part of the dynamic, balanced ecosystem in which we live. Each species has its own role to play in the web of life, and to sustain life, we must respect these other species.

A true pest is one that is doing damage or presenting a health threat. If rats are chewing through your electrical wires, that’s a very different situation than having a moth resting on your wall. Flies are unsanitary, but a few spiders won’t do much harm and actually work beneficially to control other pests.

In nature, species coexist by establishing their territories and honoring those established by others. You can establish your territory with pests by pest-proofing your home.

First, figure out how pests are getting into your home, and do something to keep them out. Fill holes and cracks, put screens on windows, put up chicken wire barriers or fences.

Then, make your home an unpleasant place for pests to be. Take away their food supply by keeping living areas clean–sweep up crumbs, wipe up spills immediately, wash dishes after eating, store food in tightly closed containers, empty garbage and compost scraps frequently. Dry up their water supply–repair leaky faucets, pipes, and clogged drains. And get rid of any clutter they can hide in–clean out closets, the attic, the garage, the basement, and anywhere else unused or infrequently used items pile up.

If you decide you do need to eliminate a pest, try the most natural, least toxic methods of control first. For tips on do-it-yourself natural pest controls, see the Natural Pest Control page of Debra’s List for educational resources and natural pest products.

There are many simple things you can do to control pests, without buying any special products. You can shoo them away, vacuum them up, put a glass over an insect and slip a card under it and take it outdoors. Herbal repellents work well, too–most pests don’t like the smell of bay leaves, cloves, pennyroyal, lavender, or cedar. The Pest Control page of Debra’s Bookstore has books that tell you just what to do.

Many nurseries and hardware stores now carry nontoxic, natural, and mechanical alternative pest controls. Flypaper and mousetraps work as well as fly spray and rat poison.

In the garden, use organic gardening methods.


Having a safe bed to sleep in is very important, for we spend one third of our life in that cozy environment.

Most bedsheets are saturated with a no-iron finish that releases carcinogenic formaldehyde as you sleep. Synthetic mattresses are treated with cancer-causing brominated fire retardants. The PBDEs in polyurethane foam may be as toxic as PCSs and DDT, both banned for their toxicity.

The solution is a bed where every layer is made from untreated natural materials. Today you can buy natural beds of every firmness and style, from budget to luxurious. Explore the Beds & Bedding page of Debra’s List to see what’s available, and read Debra’s Guide to Choosing a Natural Bed to help you choose the bed that is–as Goldilocks said–“just right” for you.


Drinking suffcient water is known to lower the risk of cancer by flushing carcinogens out of the body. But it’s important to drink pure water. Arsenic, heavy metals, fluoride, and chlorination by-products are all toxic chemicals that can be found in most municipal tap water.

The solution is either to drink bottled water from a natural source (such as a spring or artesian well) or to use a water filter.

See the Water Filters page of Debra’s List for recommended water filters.


Foods contain many different kinds of carcinogens. In fact, 25-30 percent of all cancer deaths are linked to diet.

Many food additives are linked to causing cancer or are suspected carcinogens, and artificial sweeteners, aluminum compounds, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, nitrite and nitrates, and even the caffiene in coffee and chocolate are known to cause cancer. And then there are the pesticides in produce and in the fat of animal meats and dairy products. Alcohol depresses immune function, making it more difficult to fight cancer cells, and it has been linked to many specific cancers.

The solution is to eat whole, fresh, organically grown foods, prepared from scratch at home as much as possible, and especially raw vegetables and fruits. It has been found that people who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily have only half the risk of developing cancer as people who eat only one to two servings each day.

And try drinking green tea. This delicious and refreshing beverage actual inhibits cancer-causing chemicals because of its high levels of antioxidents.

For more on orgnanic foods, see the Organic Food page of Debra’s List.


There are many plastics that contain carcinogenic ingredients. The one that is getting the most attention right now is bisphenol-A. It is used to make plastic food containers, clear plastic water bottles, baby bottles, children’s toys, and can be found in the lining of canned foods.

Vinyl chloride is another carcinogenic plastic, used to make vinyl shower curtains, upholstery material, windows, house siding, water pipes, and many other common products.

The solution is to become more aware of plastic in your life and choose materials other than plastic whenever possible.

Instead of buying water in plastic bottles, for example, you can purchase a safe refillable bottle and carry your own filtered water.


Permanent ink markers contain carcinogenic acetone, cresol, ethanol, phenol, toluene, and xylene.

Instead, use water-based markers (available in the stationary aisle of every drug store, supermarket, and discount store), soy crayons, or colored pencils.


Whenever we put anything on our skin, it is absorbed into our bodies. So the best rule of thumb is to not put anything on your skin you wouldn’t eat. And that’s most beauty products. The worst carcinogens are hair colors, hairspray containing PVP, and nail polish and remover.

Fortunately more natural versions are available for most beauty products–many now even are made with organically grown botanical ingredients. Check your natural food store and the Organic Body Care page of Debra’s List.


It’s well known that too much sun can cause skin cancer, but many of the well-publicized solutions have their own health effects.

I researched this a lot because I live in Florida where the sun is very strong.


I am convinced that cancer can be prevented by eliminating the factors that cause it. The choice is yours.

Interview with Debra on Moms Alive! Rants, raves & resources for mothers with cancer