Toxins and Cancer

Cancer is a term used for many variations of the disease that causes abnormal cells to divide uncontrollably while invading other tissues in the body. With more than 200 types of cancer known today, generally, the abnormal cells form when the genetic material is changed or damaged and those mutations affect normal growth and cell division.

Research spanning several decades is gaining a better understanding of what triggers these mutations and researchers hope one day to discover a way to halt the division of damaged cells. In 2011, the President’s Cancer Panel declared that studies examining the link between toxic chemicals and cancer were underfunded and under-recognized, and recommended immediate action to correct the information deficiency.

Causes of Cancer

cigrThe causes of cancer are partially understood and are very complex. Scientists know that a certain percentage of cancer cases, up to 10 percent, are from genetic defects. The risk of cancer is reduced in people that exercise, eat healthy, avoid ultraviolet light and maintain a healthy weight. Certain environmental toxins can also affect cells when exposed, such as asbestos, cigarette smoke and other forms of pollution.

Recently, scientists have been looking closely at the parallels between increases in cancer and the prevalence of carcinogenic chemicals in household items, specifically those made with polyurethane foam and sprayed with highly toxic flame retardant chemicals. Examples of products with a foam and flame retardant combination include sofas, baby strollers, car seats and mattresses.

Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins are found in nearly every consumer product, from plastic containers to toys to mattresses. Nearly 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into the mass market since the 1960s, most with very little government regulation or scientific testing. Many of those chemicals are now known carcinogens, like lead, vinyl chloride and asbestos.

Other chemicals and metals, like mercury, perfluorinated compounds (found in plastics) and flame retardants (found in mattresses and furniture) are toxic in high doses but little testing has been conducted to determine the long-term effects. Flame retardants in particular have increased dramatically in consumer products thanks to recent federal flammability standards for furniture and mattresses.

envtoxScientists are looking closely at the parallels between increases in cancer and the increase in new and often untested chemicals that are used in many consumer products. Certain groups are more sensitive to environmental pollutants and toxic chemicals, like pregnant women, infants and children. Studies show that pregnant women actually pass chemicals to the fetus via the bloodstream and store chemicals and heavy metals in breast milk. It is clear that the links between potentially toxic flame retardants and other toxic chemicals need a closer examination to be conclusive.

Toxins and Mattresses

There’s a growing number of evidence that shows that certain gasses are emitted from the synthetic foam materials and fire blockers used in conventional mattresses. A number of medical studies are increasingly linking them to a range of conditions, like: ADHD, allergies, asthma, autism, SIDS and even cancer. The synthetic materials used to make most retail mattresses, as well as the chemical flame retardants, include polyurethane foam, boric acid, formaldehyde, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which is a key component in flame retardants.

These materials and chemicals emit gasses, which can be absorbed into the lungs and through the skin. While there is no direct evidence of mattress toxins leading to cancer cases, many researchers are investigating links based on ever stronger connections. Recently, an HBO documentary, Toxic Hot Seat, exposed the prevalence and danger of chemical flame retardants in the home. The documentary featured interviews with a range of experts on the increased risk of serious health issues among highly vulnerable groups, especially infants, children and pregnant women. It is just the latest in a growing body of evidence linking environmental toxins, especially flame retardants, to cancer.


More research is needed to determine the extent that harmful off-gassing from mattress materials and flame retardant chemicals contribute to cell growth and mutations that lead to cancer. As evidence mounts and awareness increases, consumers will be able to help effect change with government regulations and mattress manufacturers to ensure that the place where people sped up to 1/3 of their lives is not only comfortable, but safe and healthy.

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