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Doc: Pool chemicals do not cause cancer

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: I was warned not to use the water agitators in the spa at the municipal facility where I live, because inhaling the chemicals can cause cancer. I inquired at the facility, and was told that they use calcium hypochlorite and test the pool three to four times daily. Should I be worried about cancer?


Dear L.S.: There is no good evidence that chlorine in swimming pools causes cancer. It is true that the chlorine in pool water can react with organic material, such as skin cells or compounds in sweat in urine, to form trihalomethanes and other chemicals. These are what can be irritating to the eye, lung and skin. They also can cause cancer in animal cells in the laboratory, but that is a long way from saying that swimming in or breathing the fumes from swimming-pool water causes cancer.

If the odor of the pool is bothersome or irritating, it makes sense not to use the jets. However, in my opinion, the benefits from swimming outweigh any potentially small risk of cancer. I don’t believe there is more than a miniscule risk.

Dear Dr. Roach: I heard on the television that eating bagels and potatoes will cause lung cancer. Is this true?


Dear N.B.: I believe this comes from a study released in March of this year, which found that people who eat a large amount of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, potatoes and bagels, were 49 percent more likely to develop lung cancer.

However, this translates to a very small increase in risk among people who don’t smoke.

Eating too many refined carbohydrates is already known to be a risk for heart disease, obesity and diabetes, so the study is adding another reason for people to avoid excess starch, which may provide some benefit.

It sounds like what you heard on television was an oversimplification of a more nuanced message. An occasional bagel or bowl of mashed potatoes is not going to significantly increase cancer risk. Have a balanced diet with whole grains, and especially fruits and vegetables (which reduce cancer risk).

Dear Dr. Roach: What do you think about hyaluronic acid, which is now the rage in skin creams for wrinkles? I am worried about using an acid, since I read that Queen Elizabeth I destroyed her face with acids.


Dear K.V.D.: Hyaluronic acid works very well for wrinkles — when it is injected. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons use it as a soft-tissue filler and to remove some signs of aging. Unfortunately, most often the effects wear off after six to 12 months.

Hyaluronic acid is not absorbed very well, if at all, by the skin, so although it is a reasonable moisturizer, it doesn’t have the same type of effect as a cream as it does by injection. There are more effective moisturizers for less money.

Acids vary in strength, and the skin is not damaged by most diluted acids, such as those designed for the skin. An example is ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which was all the rage a few years ago.

Queen Elizabeth I, interestingly, used a variety of skin whiteners after her skin was damaged by smallpox. One of these, Venetian ceruse, contains lead. Lead can be absorbed through the skin, and the lead not only damaged and corroded her skin, but also slowly poisoned her.

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