How to Avoid Known Cancer Causing Agents

How to Avoid Known Cancer Causing Agents

Danielle Phillips-Dorsett, ND

There is much in the news, from time to time, about chemicals that are associated with cancer and this may be confusing and scary for you. Much is unknown about how cancers develop in the body; however, there are substances and exposures that are known to cause cancer in humans.

These are documented and reported by the National Toxicology Program that publishes the Report on Carcinogens, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Below is a summary of how to protect yourself and family from a few on the list, including trichloroethylene, which was just added last year.


Industrial solvents:

  • Trichloroethylene, benzene and many other industrial solvents are listed by the National Toxicology Program as known carcinogens. Exposure has been linked with cancers of the liver, lungs, digestive tract, lymphoma and leukemia. Solvents are used in numerous products to remove grease in the automotive, manufacturing and even home care industries. It may come as a surprise that in our fair city of Billings, as in many cities, there are a substantial number of companies where workers need to be well-informed of occupational exposures to these carcinogens. Use of PPE (personal protective equipment) is required for good reason. It is reasonable to request that management provide safer cleaners when available. Solvents are the cause of the superfund site just outside Billings, where a now contained solvent plume contaminated groundwater.


  • Radon is a gas released from rock and can build up in the home if not properly vented. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. If your house has not been tested for radon, you will want to have it tested because the good news is you can do something about it if levels are unsafely elevated. The longer you are exposed to high levels of radon, the greater risk you are of developing cancer. And, if you are a cigarette smoker the risk is much higher when exposed to elevated levels of radon. If you are a renter, ask your landlord about radon levels, especially if you plan to live in the home long-term. There are several companies in Billings that can test this and most home inspectors will add this to their report.


  • Styrene is a chemical used in the making of plastics and rubber and is also inhaled in cigarette smoke. This chemical has been linked to leukemia, lymphomas, and pancreatic and esophageal cancers. Since it can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, anyone working with this material should wear gloves, respirators and work in a well ventilated area. Some Styrofoam containers have been determined to be microwave safe, with a non-significant amount of polystyrene released into the contents. AVOID using them to hold hot liquids or reheat food if they are not labeled as such.

These are just a few of the long list the National Institute of Health Toxicology Program has put together. For the complete list of known human carcinogens go to their website at


“Do the best you can until you know better.

Then when you know better, do better.”

–Maya Angelou