3 Ways to Reduce Cancer Risks in the Office

Woman sitting at desk with plants around her.

If someone were to ask you about the level of pollutants in your daily environment, you’d probably think about your home, your city or town. But if you have a full-time job, what about the health of the workplace you spend most of your waking hours within?

One third of most people’s adult lives will be spent at work. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute estimates more than 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2018. According to the most recent data from the US National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, American adults have a one-in-three lifetime chance of being diagnosed with cancer.

If you have a full time job and spend a large portion of your days in an office, here are some areas to be aware of:

Be mindful of the indoor air quality.

The air we breathe every day directly impacts our health, even though we are often unaware of its influence. Poor air quality has been recognized as a carcinogen linked to lung cancer, heart disease, and other respiratory conditions. These health concerns develop from exposure to toxins in the air, including particulate matter and specific types of chemicals.

Air pollution issues are typically associated with being outside, but indoor air is often far more polluted than outdoor air. A person also typically spends about 90 percent of their time inside, so any toxins that are present have a tremendous impact due to the length of time a person is exposed. If there are pollution sources near a building, toxins from the outdoor environment may be pulled inside through the mechanical ventilation system. Other biological toxins, like bird droppings or insects, can enter a building if the ventilation system isn’t properly maintained.

The materials used during a building’s construction can also be sources of pollution, especially when those materials are disturbed during renovations. Older buildings may have been constructed using toxins like asbestos and lead, both of which can be broken down into microscopic particles and swept into the air. Inhaling asbestos is known to cause a devastating form of cancer while exposure to lead causes a variety of complications throughout the body, including impaired kidney function and behavioral changes.

Depending on the toxin, employees can take action to combat indoor air pollution. Ask for transparency from management and the facilities team about building maintenance or renovations. Smaller steps include introducing plants into the office — which may remove some pollutants from the air.

Make time for exercise.

Exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits in preventing cancer, including regulating hormones, lowering body fat, and reducing inflammation. If you work full-time, it can be a challenge to make it to the gym after a long day in the office, so look for ways to infuse exercise into the very fabric of your days.

Try going for a walk or attending a fitness class at a nearby gym during lunch. And why go it alone? Having a gym partner or workout buddy helps people maintain their motivation to keep working out over the long haul. You can also make changes to your desk itself, for example by bringing in an under the desk bike or yoga ball to strengthen cardio health and balance.

Don’t forget sunblock if you sit near a window.

Dermatologists recommend you apply sunscreen every day you’re outside, even during the winter. Sun exposure can even occur indoors or in a car since most glass windows do not offer full-spectrum protection from the sun’s radiation. There is evidence of a correlation between people who spend a lot of time in the car and incidences of skin cancer on the left side of the body, coinciding with the driver’s side of a vehicle.

The American Cancer Society notes the risk of UV radiation through windows would pose a problem only for those who “spend long periods of time close to a window that gets direct sunlight.” If that applies to you, use sunblock each day, reduce the direct sun coming through the blinds, and cover any exposed skin with extra clothing helps create a barrier between your skin and harmful UV rays. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States with one in five Americans expected to be diagnosed at some point in their lives.

Cancer is the second most common cause for long-term disability claims. Do you have a disability insurance plan in place at work? To learn more and the sorts of questions you can ask HR, visit RealityCheckup.org.