Cancer and lifestyle:
Looking at the whole picture

UPdate Fall 2007

What is this thing called ‘lifestyle’? As defined by cancer agencies, lifestyle is about smoking, diet, exercise, alcohol, and avoiding the mid-day sun. Yet we are all children of a toxic industrial age, and how we live is more than the sum of personal habits.

A typical ‘day in the life’ might unfold something like this:
7 am: Shut off the alarm on the clock radio (exposure to electromagnetic fields). Hit the synthetic carpet (too many off-gassing chemicals to list) running. Take a shower in hot chlorinated water (chloroform, etc.) using an anti-bacterial body wash (triclosan). Apply several personal care products including underarm deodorant/antiperspirant (parabens), lipstick (coal tar dyes) and blusher (main ingredient, talc, possibly contaminated with asbestos). Step into a freshly dry-cleaned (perchlorethylene), perma-pressed (formaldehyde-finished) business suit. Fry eggs for breakfast in a Teflon-coated pan, burn the toast a little but eat it anyway (PAHs, acrylamide), heat coffee made from city tap water (chlorine by-products, trace toxins). Drive to the office in the brand new car (plastics and glues off-gassing formaldehyde) in heavy traffic (diesel particulates, benzene). Turn on the computer and copier (EMFs, cadmium), breathe copious amounts of indoor office air (too many chemicals to list). Eat lunch with fatty foods that are non-organic (deprived of antioxidants). Keep hydrated with water from polycarbonate plastic bottles (bisphenol-A). Home again at 6 pm to relax with glass of red wine (pesticide residues) and a scented candle (too many chemicals to name). Poach some farmed salmon (mercury and PCBs); serve with non-organic spinach, potatoes, sweet bell peppers and celery (veggies most likely to be contaminated with pesticides). Go to sleep on a mattress made with petrochemicals and flame retardants.

Yes, of course it’s important to cultivate good personal habits, but ­ at the same time - let’s acknowledge that “lifestyle” is way more than diet, smoking, alcohol, physical exercise and staying out of the sun. Transforming the toxic lives we lead is an exciting challenge ­ and unquestionably possible.

Reprinted with permission from Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic, New Society Press, 2007

Book Review of Cancer: 101 Solutions at

Additional excerpts from Cancer: 101 Solutions:
Our Chemical Body Burden
Cancer and the animal world: Learning the lessons