Surprising Habits That May Lead to Cancer

These seemingly harmless habits could increase your cancer risk.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

1 / 5

While quitting smoking and eating right are certainly important to your health, they aren’t the only habits to consider. There are many seemingly harmless things you do every day that could be bad for you—so bad that they could up your cancer risk.

Click through and find out what habits you may want to rethink to stay healthy.

2 / 5
Sitting too much

A desk job, a long commute or binge watching your favorite show: They may seem benign, but don’t be fooled. They all keep you on your tush for too long, and prolonged sitting has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society (ACS) found that women who spent more than six hours a day of their leisure time sitting had a 10 percent greater risk of cancer than women who spent three hours of their free time sitting. Some studies have found that sitting for long periods of time ups your chances of developing colorectal, ovarian and endometrial cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

3 / 5
Working the night shift

While you may not be able to change your working hours, it’s important to know that shift work may be increasing your cancer risk. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls it a “probable carcinogen.”

One study found that women who spent more than 30 years working the night shift were more than twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those who didn’t. Research has also shown a link between men who work the graveyard shift and increased prostate cancer risk.

Researchers suspect that irregular sleep patterns could affect melatonin production, a hormone that regulates sleep, and one that may also prevent tumor growth. Other factors may also play a role.

4 / 5
Worrying too much

We’re all victims of an occasional nagging worry, but chronic stress and anxiety could indirectly up your cancer risk.

The theory is that people who are chronically over-stressed may also engage in other unhealthy habits, such as overeating, not exercising, smoking or drinking too much alcohol, all of which have been linked to different types of cancer.

Stress also lowers your overall immunity, leaving you susceptible to many different diseases, including certain cancers.

5 / 5
Drinking beverages loaded with sugar

Too much added sugar is bad for you for many reasons. Not only can it make you gain weight, it also increases your risk for a slew of health problems, including cancer.

One study found that women who drank more than four sugary drinks per week increased their risk of endometrial cancer by 78 percent compared to those who didn’t drink them at all, possibly due to sugar’s impact on estrogen and insulin levels. 

One easy way to cut back on added sugar is to stop drinking sugar-loaded beverages. A 20 ounce bottle of regular cola alone contains 65 grams of sugar, which means trading it in for water or unsweetened tea could go a long way in improving your health and lowering your cancer risk.

More On

How Can My Interpersonal Relationships Help Fight Cancer?


How Can My Interpersonal Relationships Help Fight Cancer?
Social bonding and interpersonal relationships can have a big impact on your cancer risk. In this video, disease prevention specialist William Li, MD,...
Graft-Versus-Host Disease and Mental Health


Graft-Versus-Host Disease and Mental Health
Learn how to recognize and address the mental burdens of GVHD.
Cancer-Friendly Diet Tips


Cancer-Friendly Diet Tips
Learn why the foods you eat could help you recover faster. 
What Is a Challenge in Treating Retinoblastoma?


What Is a Challenge in Treating Retinoblastoma?
A challenge of treating retinoblastoma is that children need anesthesia just to be examined. In this video, HealthMaker David Abramson, MD, explains w...
What Kinds of Cancer Can Be Treated with Immunotherapy?


What Kinds of Cancer Can Be Treated with Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy has been used to treat metastatic melanoma and metastatic kidney cancer. Some evidence suggests patients with certain lung cancers can r...