Avoiding plastics as part of anti-cancer strategy

Dear Dr. Roach: I have had cancer twice, and I try to do everything in my power to prevent a recurrence or a new cancer — exercising daily and following a strictly healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruits, and buying organic produce whenever possible. Because most of our fresh foods, i.e. vegetables and fruits, are placed in plastic bags when shopping and our poultry/meat, potatoes, cheeses, breads, frozen vegetables and fruits, as well as packaged nuts and seeds, come in plastic wrap or bags, I’m beginning to question if, because plastic has been proven as a carcinogen and apparently our foods absorb the dangers of the plastic, are we doing ourselves more harm than good? — Anon.

Answer: Trying to eat well is very important, especially after a diagnosis of cancer, because some foods help reduce cancer risk, especially fresh (or frozen) vegetables and fruits; others, such as processed meats or meats that have been charred, increase cancer risk slightly.

There are many different forms of plastics, but the plastics that are allowed to be used with food have not been proven to increase cancer risk. Foods stored in plastics at room temperature and below, including freezing, generally do not absorb dangerous chemicals from plastic. One possible exception to this is a chemical called bisphenol A, abbreviated BPA. This chemical has been shown to be an “endocrine disrupter,” acting like an estrogen. The amount of BPA considered safe remains controversial, with most authorities stating that the low level found in food is not enough to worry about. People who wish to avoid BPA should avoid plastics marked with recycling codes 3 and 7, and cans lined with plastic. Heating plastics can release potentially toxic chemicals, so it’s best to avoid doing so. If the plastic melts, discard the food and the plastic.

People who work in the industry making plastics need protective equipment, since the chemicals used to make finished plastic consumer goods can be toxic.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.