Making changes in your environment

Creating a healing environment invites a four-pronged approach: 

  1. Creating a personal sanctuary—a place that feels safe, calm, and healing for you.
  2. Adjusting your living space to be safe, especially if you’re experiencing debilitating side effects.
  3. Increasing beneficial exposures such as nature and bright light during the day (but not bright light before bedtime).
  4. Minimizing potentially harmful exposures including chemical pollutants and radiation. 

We provide a few suggestions for making the last three a part of your daily habits.

For a summary of the evidence connecting these exposures to cancer, see How can Creating a Healing Environment help you? What the research says ›

CancerChoices Senior Clinical Consultant Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, discusses creating a healing environment.

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Home comfort and safety

As Michael Lerner says in his letter introducing this topic, “Creating a sense of healing or sacred space depends deeply on what you find healing.”

  • What makes a space feel healing for you? Darkness or light? Quiet or soft sounds? Solitude or loved ones? Stillness or activity? Indoors or outdoors?
  • Where do you find that your breath deepens, you relax, and you allow the flow of life energy to move through you?

Your living spaces also need to be physically safe for you. As a result of cancer or treatments, you may have impaired balance, vision, or hearing. You may have lost a body part or suffered nerve damage that can affect your mobility and physical function. You may experience weakness or disability. You may need to adjust your home environment to make it safer for you.

Safety precautions include installing handrails in the bathroom or along stairs, removing throw rugs that can slip, adding extra lighting, and checking water temperature with your elbow instead of your hands to prevent burns.1Cancer.Net. Nervous System Side Effects. American Society of Clinical Oncology. February 2018. Viewed May 4, 2022. Ask your oncology team if you need any further safety adjustments at home.

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Your exposure to nature

The more time you can spend in nature, the more you’ll reap the healing benefits. See this therapy review for benefits and guidance on adding more time in nature to your daily practices.

Your exposures to light and other radiation

Bright light

Bright light during daytime hours comes naturally from the sun. Light from sources such as indoor lighting can also produce a similar light spectrum. Although bright light in daytime can improve sleep-wake rhythms, bright light—and especially blue-spectrum light—in the evening can interfere with your natural melatonin production. Higher concentrations of melatonin promote sleep, so bright light should be limited before sleep time.

  • Can you increase your exposure to bright light in the morning? 
  • Can you avoid screen time for at least 30 minutes before bed? 
  • Can you reduce your exposure to white or blue artificial light in the evening, choosing more yellow light? 
  • If you work at night and must sleep during daylight, can you make your bedroom as dark as possible, ideally not being able to see across the room, even after adjusting to the dark?
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Ionizing radiation

Sources of ionizing radiation include heat or light from the sun, medical diagnostic scans such as x-rays and CT scans, and gamma rays from radioactive elements. By 2006, almost half of the typical American exposure to ionizing radiation had come from medical imaging, such as x-rays and especially from computed tomography (CT) scans.2Laffall LD, Kripke ML. Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. President’s Cancer Panel. 2010.

  • Can you limit your time in the sun, especially at midday?
  • Can you limit or eliminate indoor tanning?
  • Can you find out if your house has high amounts of radon and how to address it?
  • Can you verify that any medical imaging is necessary, and ask to protect your thyroid during imaging?
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Your exposures to chemicals and other substances

We focus on the chemicals and substances with the strongest connection to cancer and which you’re most likely to be exposed to at home.

Air pollution

Outdoor air pollution comes to mind when many people think of air pollution, and without a doubt air toxicants from vehicles, industry, burning, and mining create an unhealthy environment. However, indoor air in many buildings is also likely to contain particulates in harmful concentrations.

Making lifestyle choices to reduce particulates in indoor air:

  • If anyone in your household smokes cigarettes or vapes, can all agree that they do it outside?  
  • Can you avoid burning candles and incense? 
  • If you use gas or wood stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, or space heaters, can you make sure they are adequately vented and maintained? 
  • Can you open your windows more frequently, especially when cleaning or doing any home repair work such as painting, installing carpeting, or staining wood? 
  • If the outdoor air in your neighborhood isn’t clean, or if you’re not able to ventilate adequately using windows or fans, can you consider getting an air purifier?
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Arsenic

The main source of arsenic exposures is through drinking water. 

  • Can you find out from your water utility if your community’s water is naturally high in arsenic? 
  • Can you filter water to remove arsenic if the levels are high?
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Asbestos

The main source of asbestos exposures is through insulation in building materials, especially paint, insulation, and floor tiles in older houses.

  • Can you find out if asbestos is in your home or workplace?
  • Can you have asbestos-containing materials removed?
  • Can you hire out any remodeling work to professionals qualified to work with asbestos?
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Benzene

The major sources of benzene exposure are tobacco smoke, automobile service stations, exhaust from motor vehicles, and industrial emissions. Forest fires also produce benzene. 

  • Can you remove sources of smoke from inside your home?
  • Can you reduce your time in auto exhaust and near gas pumps?
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Bisphenol A (BPA)

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a synthetic chemical used in plastics and resins and added to many everyday items, including cash register receipts. Most exposure comes from eating food or drinking water stored in containers that have BPA.

  • Do your food containers contain BPA? 
  • How can you reduce the amount of food you eat from BPA containers?
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Dioxins

Dioxins occur in nature but are also created by human processes. They accumulate in animal fats, including in animal-derived foods high in fat.

  • Can you cut away excess fat from meats before cooking?
  • Can you reduce the amount of animal fat you eat in meats—including poultry and fatty fish—and dairy products?
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Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)

You can be exposed to EDCs through water, air, food, consumer products, or contaminated soil.

  • Can you find out if your personal-care products or cleaners contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals?
  • Can you reduce your use of plastic food containers?
  • Can you reduce your use of fragrances, both in cosmetics and in other products such as air fresheners, candles, laundry supplies, and cleaners?
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Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used in building materials and in many cosmetic products as a preservative. Formaldehyde is also produced when smoking tobacco or using unvented fuel-burning appliances such as gas stoves or kerosene space heaters. 

  • Can you reduce tobacco smoking in your home?
  • Can you increase the ventilation in your home to prevent formaldehyde from building up?
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Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

PFAS are manufactured chemicals used widely in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and fire-fighting foams. 

  • Can you cut down on buying foods in packages containing PFAS, such as microwave popcorn and fast-food wrappers?
  • Can you avoid buying fabrics, including clothing, upholstered furniture, and carpeting, that are treated to be stain-resistant?
  • Do you know if my water supply is contaminated?
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Mapping the PFAS contamination crisis ›

PFAS pollution in public and private water systems

Pesticides

The most common exposures at home are through chemical treatments in homes and on lawns.

  • Can you try to avoid pest problems in your home by removing entry points and sources of food and water? 
  • Can you try non-chemical or less-toxic remedies for any pests in or around your home? 
  • Can everyone entering your home remove shoes before entering to reduce pesticides that are tracked in from outdoors?

Integrative oncologist and CancerChoices advisor Donald Abrams, MD, explains why all cancer patients (and everyone else as well) should be eating organic food.

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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are toxic substances formed during combustion, including burning tobacco and when smoking or grilling meat.

  • Can you avoid cooking food at very high temperatures and avoid contacting foods to open flames when cooking?
  • Can you avoid using an open fireplace or an inefficient wood stove? Can you reduce the amount of smoke produced in my fireplace, wood stove, or other fire by managing fuel and oxygen flow?
  • Can you minimize my exposure to car exhaust?
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Viruses and bacteria

Even though some types of cancer are caused by viruses or bacteria, in general most infected people will not develop a cancer related to the infection.3The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Viruses that can lead to cancer. American Cancer Society. March 31, 2022. Viewed April 11, 2022. Some of the cancer-causing (oncogenic) viruses and bacteria are avoidable or treatable.

As the world was reminded during the COVID-19 pandemic, viruses can spread easily from one person to another. Many oncogenic viruses reside in the skin or body fluids of an infected person. Viruses can be spread by coughing, sneezing, touching, or even sharing drinking or eating utensils. Unprotected sexual contact, such as without a condom, is another frequent exposure route.

Steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection:4The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Viruses that can lead to cancer. American Cancer Society. March 31, 2022. Viewed April 11, 2022; Blackburn K. 7 viruses that cause cancer. MD Anderson Cancer Center. August 2018. Viewed April 11, 2022.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for persons under age 26, and preferably between ages 9 and 12
  • Stop contact with body fluids of others, such as unprotected sexual contact or sharing eating utensils or hypodermic needles

If you are infected, steps you can take to reduce your risk of infecting others:5The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Viruses that can lead to cancer. American Cancer Society. March 31, 2022. Viewed April 11, 2022; Blackburn K. 7 viruses that cause cancer. MD Anderson Cancer Center. August 2018. Viewed April 11, 2022.

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccination for all children, for adults up to age 59, and older adults at risk of HBV exposure
  • Screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV); because most people infected with HCV aren’t aware that they’re infected, the  US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people 18 years of age or older get tested for HCV at least once, and that some groups of people get tested more often. 
  • Treat known infections if possible; hepatitis C is highly treatable, for example, and eradication therapy for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) not only reduces spread but can reduce incidence and mortality from stomach cancer among treated people6Ford AC, Yuan Y, Moayyedi P. Helicobacter pylori eradication therapy to prevent gastric cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis. Gut. 2020 Dec;69(12):2113-2121.
  • Stop contact with body fluids of others, such as unprotected sexual contact or sharing eating utensils or hypodermic needles
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How Creating a Healing Environment relates to other practices

Eating Well

Foods are sometimes contaminated with chemicals during production or processing.

Some cooking methods can create harmful exposures, such as charring and cooking with high heat.

Some food packaging or storage containers can contaminate food with harmful chemicals.

Foods can be a source of viruses and bacteria.

Don’t smoke

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, including at least 70 known to cause cancer.7Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products. American Cancer Society. October 28, 2020. Viewed April 7, 2022. These include arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, and PAHs, plus harmful air particulates as reviewed above.

Helpful links

Unpacked: a documentary about the health effects caused by chemicals found in food packaging that showcases a few potential solutions

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Keep reading

Authors

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Maria Williams

Research and Communications Consultant
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Maria Williams is a research and communications consultant who brings over 15 years’ experience in research, consumer education, and science communication to CancerChoices. She has worked primarily in public health and environmental health.

Maria Williams Research and Communications Consultant

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: June 30, 2023

Last full literature review: March 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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