This Interactive Chart Shows How Your Lifestyle Can Change Your Cancer Risk

World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research
World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research

If you read a lot of health news, you probably spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about your cancer risk. Will drinking too much coffee give you cancer? What about eating hot dogs? Or using a cell phone? Since it can be difficult to interpret the research, the World Cancer Research Fund has an interactive graphic, as Lifehacker spotted, that can help put things into perspective.

The World Cancer Research Fund, an international network of cancer prevention charities based in the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong, is dedicated to the science of how diet, nutrition, and physical activity affect cancer risk. Its Interactive Cancer Risk Matrix (see the full version here) visualizes what current research says about cancer risk and prevention in regards to lifestyle choices, like eating processed meat or having been breastfed as a child. (It doesn’t, however, include the genetic factors that play a role in cancer risk.) It features both factors that increase your risk for certain cancers—bacon and booze, for example—and factors that seem to decrease your risk, like eating a lot of whole grains and staying active.

A bubble chart that shows factors that decrease cancer risk in shades of green
World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research

The visualization divides risk factors into three categories: convincing, probably, or limited-suggested evidence. The first two mean that there’s significant research to show a causal link between those factors and either an increase or decrease in cancer risk. Limited evidence means there’s not enough definitive research for experts to be confident making a recommendation either way—the studies suggesting a link might be of poor quality, or the results too inconsistent to make a definitive call on it, even if there has been some evidence to suggest it has an effect.

These lifestyle factors don’t usually affect your risk of all cancers, so the graphic specifies which cancer each risk factor is associated with. As a result, some factors show up in multiple spots. A high adult body weight has been shown to have a probable increase in risk for cervical cancer, for instance, but a convincing increase in risk for other cancers, like liver cancer, colorectal cancer, and kidney cancer.

Not all of the risk factors are intuitive. Sure, arsenic in drinking water might increase your risk of lung cancer, but what does drinking mate have to do with cancer? Each of the bubbles is a link to the site’s in-depth webpages on related research, so if you click on the “mate” bubble, it will take you to a research digest of what current science tells us about the links between non-alcoholic drinks and cancer risk.

Explore for yourself here.

[h/t Lifehacker]

One Good Reason Not to Hold in a Fart: It Could Leak Out of Your Mouth

iStock/grinvalds
iStock/grinvalds

The next time you hold in a fart for fear of being heard by polite company, just remember this: It could leak out of your mouth instead of your butt. Writing on The Conversation, University of Newcastle nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins explains that pent-up gas can pass through your gut wall and get reabsorbed into your circulation. It's then released when you exhale, whether you like it or not.

“Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” Collins writes. In this case, the fart comes out of the wrong end. Talk about potty mouth.

A few brave scientists have investigated the phenomenon of flatulence. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were fed half a can of baked beans in addition to their regular diets and given a rectal catheter to measure their farts over a 24-hour period. Although it was a small sample, the results were still telling. Men and women let loose the same amount of gas, and the average number of “flatus episodes” (a single fart, or series of farts) during that period was eight. Another study of 10 people found that high-fiber diets led to fewer but bigger farts, and a third study found that gases containing sulphur are the culprit of the world’s stinkiest farts. Two judges were tapped to rate the odor intensity of each toot, and we can only hope that they made it out alive.

Scientific literature also seems to support Collins’s advice to “let it go.” A 2010 paper on “Methane and the gastrointestinal tract” says methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that are produced in the intestinal tract are mostly eliminated from the body via the anus or “expelled from the lungs.” Holding it in can lead to belching, flatulence, bloating, and pain. And in some severe cases, pouches can form along the wall of the colon and get infected, causing diverticulitis.

So go ahead and let it rip, just like nature intended—but maybe try to find an empty room first.

[h/t CBS Philadelphia]

A Chemical in Spider Venom Could Be a Key to Killing Skin Cancer Cells

Alan Couch, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Alan Couch, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Despite their formidable reputation in the eyes of arachnophobes, spiders contribute to human society in a number of positive ways. On a practical level, they can reduce the population of insects in your home by trapping them for meals. Outdoors, they keep pests from destroying gardens and crops, making sure we don't slip into a period of famine and anarchy. In the lab, scientists have identified a number of chemicals in their venom as possible building blocks for medicines treating everything from pain to muscular dystrophy.

That field of study has led to a promising discovery. In Australia, researchers have isolated one particular compound in a funnel-web spider's venom that can diminish skin cancer cells.

Scientists at QIMR Berghofer and the University of Queensland began studying the Australian funnel-web spider known as Hadronyche infensa after a similar Brazilian arachnid, Acanthoscurria gomesiana, was shown to carry a peptide in its venom called gomesin that has cancer-fighting properties. Identifying a similar peptide in the Australian spider, the researchers demonstrated that the chemical was effective in killing skin cancer cells while leaving healthy skin cells alone.

The peptide was tested on human melanoma cells, eradicating the majority of them. In mice, it also slowed the growth of the melanomas. The peptide was even effective in killing cells found in facial tumors of Tasmanian devils, a marsupial susceptible to an aggressive form of skin cancer transmittable through biting. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

These peptides are able to be manipulated, taking on different properties as scientists alter amino acids to create new and potentially more potent versions. It’s hoped that this line of research will lead to the development of treatments for skin cancer in humans.

It's something to think about the next time you consider swatting a spider—though if you happen to reside in Australia and see the funnel-web variety, you might not have a choice. While there are 35 different species of funnel-webs of varying potency, some are so formidable that their fangs can pierce fingernails, and their venom is able to kill a human in less than 15 minutes.

[h/t New Atlas]

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