Can Styrofoam Cause Cancer?

Dear Dr. Roach: A co-worker and I are at odds over a recent incident, about which I seek your opinion. I purchased a large mocha caramel latte from a well-known coffee shop. When I arrived at work, a job situation demanded our attention and, when I was able to return to my coffee, it was cold. I placed the drink in a microwave oven for one minute to heat it up. The co-worker pulled my coffee out of the microwave and promptly poured it down the kitchen sink.

When I asked her why she did this, she claims that coffee and/or food in styrofoam cups or containers can be poisonous when placed in a microwave; and in some instances it can cause cancer! Is there any truth to this? Please advise. She STILL owes me, but perhaps I may owe her! — W.E.

Answer: She is a little bit right. There are chemicals inside many plastics that can leak into food. I recommend against using plastics while reheating food in the microwave.

However, the risk in this situation probably is very small. The materials used in containers designed for hot liquids (including Styrofoam) are generally safe in the microwave, unless they get really hot (above boiling temperature for water).

I think you can buy her a coffee for meaning well but overreacting, and she can replace the one she threw out. Next time, bring your own porcelain mug, save some waste and maybe a little money, and don’t worry about plastics.

Dear Dr. Roach: A few days ago, I heard a report on breast cancer recurrence. I had cancer in my left breast in 1995, and on my right side in 2003. What are your thoughts on the subject? There is no history of breast cancer in my family. — P.M.

Answer: Breast cancer sometimes runs in families, but 70 percent to 80 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history. Once a woman has had breast cancer, she is at higher risk for developing a second breast cancer. Survivors of breast cancer should get regular physical exams and mammograms.

In April, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University published a study promising that in the near future, a new type of blood test may be able to identify DNA from breast cancer cells and find recurrence much earlier than current methods. If confirmed, this would be a big relief to the many women (and a few men) with breast cancer at risk for recurrence.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am a 77-year-old male who, in mid-February, was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer. I started chemo in early March. The doctors advised limiting sugar, so I started reading labels. Sugar is in everything! It is almost impossible to avoid it. It’s even in the supplemental nutrition products that I am encouraged to drink. My question is whether there is a recommended daily allowance of sugar for cancer patients. — L.V.

Answer: I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis. It is next to impossible to avoid all sugar, but you don’t need to avoid all sugar. In fact, eating a little sugar may be more important in people with liver disease, since it is the normally functioning liver that’s necessary to make sugar when we need it.

I would recommend sticking around the World Health Organization and American Heart Association guidelines of 25-40 grams of sugar daily. That’s much less than most people take in.