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Fact Or Fiction: Cancer Causes

By Kate Merrill, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Kate Merrill Kate Merrill
Kate Merrill is an Emmy award winning journalist for WBZ-TV News and...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Millions of Americans suffer from cancer and many have no family history or obvious risk factors. So what causes it?

Experts say smoking accounts for about a third of all cancers, but what about the rest? There are new studies released all the time linking things we use every day to cancer, but how much can we really believe?

We went to Bruce Chabner, Director of Clinical Research at Mass General Cancer Center, to help us separate fact from fiction.

WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill reports.

We often year studies suggesting aspartame and other artificial sweeteners may be linked to cancer, but are they a real risk? Not according to Chabner. “The government has said they feel it’s safe,” he said. Chabner did say that some studies have shown animals fed large quantities did show a slightly elevated risk. “I wouldn’t suggest drinking 25 diet drinks a day,” he said.

Read: New Cancer Therapy Offers New Hope For Patients

Other studies have suggested parabens, found in some deodorants and cosmetics, could be connected to cancer. That’s also a no. “I haven’t seen anything that indicates that deodorants are harmful,” Chabner said.

Ever hear that mouthwash can increase your risk of oral cancer? That, according to Chabner, is another no.

The answer is not quite as clear with other things like red wine. “There are things in red wine that may be protective,” Chabner explained. “But the alcohol in red wine is a carcinogen. If you drink enough of it for a long period of time… it may eventually lead to some cancer in the liver,” he said.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs have shown great benefits for heart health, but there has also been some concern about whether they can increase cancer risk. “They could have effects on cancer, but it’s certainly not clear at this point,” Chabner said.

See: Cancer Causes

Some studies have suggested cell phones may be to blame for the increase in brain cancer. That’s another unknown. According to Dr. Thomas Froehlich of the Simmons Cancer Center, scientists are trying to come up with a definitive answer. “Many, many millions of dollars are being spent to try to figure out if there is a causal link between the electromagnetic waves used in cell phones and the rise in brain tumors,” he explained.

Other than smoking, obesity is one of the greatest risk factors for cancer and many other problems. Most experts agree rather than worrying about all the random studies that are published, we would all be better off concentrating on what we put on our plate.

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