Ranked: Bacon, Sunlight, and Other Fun Things That Apparently Cause Cancer

Sara Norris/Thrillist
Sara Norris/Thrillist

The World Health Organization set the Internet ablaze recently when it announced that bacon (yes, THAT bacon) causes cancer. Disappointing news, to be sure, but surprising? Not completely.

Why? Because SO many things give you cancer: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the WHO) lists 481 substances that possibly, probably, or definitely give you cancer. Avoiding all of them is pretty much impossible, partly because they’re everywhere, and partly because some of them are so damn enjoyable. Here are 17 of the most prevalent cancer-causing culprits, ranked by how much fun it is to partake in them (do so at your own risk!).


17. Anabolic steroids

We wouldn’t have Pumping Iron without steroids, which means we wouldn’t have video of Arnold Schwarzenegger smoking weed and relentlessly shit-talking Lou Ferrigno.

Worth it? Depends on whether you enjoyed Jersey Shore without irony

16. Tanning beds

Jacked AND tan is over? End of an era, bro.

Worth it? Also depends whether you enjoyed Jersey Shore without irony

15. Dyes

Wow, magenta causes cancer? There was always something a little off about that color.

Worth it? Your wardrobe would be quite depressing without them, unless you’re hardcore goth, in which case that’s sort of the point?

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

14. Tobacco

Everyone knows tobacco kills, and yet, we as a society still need a visual shorthand to convey coolness on television and in the movies.

Worth it? If you’re already a smoker it sure feels like it. Please don’t start smoking, kids. The movies lie!

13. Betel nuts

[Lacks the cultural framework to make an appropriate quip] But apparently they’re quite the rage in Asia. The WHO actually gives you a handy cultural guide to betel nuts, which doubles as a cancer warning.

Worth it? [Still lacks framework] Perhaps time for a vacation to Asia?

12. Salted fish (Chinese style)

Why you gotta pick on the Chinese, WHO? Salt and fish has been a winning combo for millennia! (Except for the people who get nasopharyngeal carcinoma at a much higher rate from eating it every day.)

Worth it? That’s beside the point. What nefarious means are the Chinese using to salt their fish?

Flickr/Pedro Ribeiro Simões

11. Painting

Turns out that the paint in both your favorite Jackson Pollock and your off-taupe living room contain loads of chemicals that cause cancer. Guess art really does come at a cost (so does roller-painting your home).

Worth it? If you’ve appreciated a centuries-old fresco or rebelliously painted a bedroom against your landlord’s request, definitely.

10. High-temperature frying

But... but... what are we supposed to do with this collection of Oreos, Twinkies, pickles, and butter we’ve amassed?

Worth it? State fairs must press on, so it has to be.

9. Cellphones

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, like those from cellphones: possibly giving you cancer!

Worth it? How would you play Candy Crush?

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

8. Red meat

From perfect medium-rare steaks to gourmet burgers, red meat is as American as apple pie or... red meat.

Worth it?These burgers would seem to suggest yes.

7. Processed meats

These are tough times for the bacon cheeseburger.

Worth it? Have you ever bitten into a perfectly crisp slice of bacon on a sun-soaked Sunday morning? Then you already know the answer.

6. Coffee

How are people supposed to get up and do things? Some may disagree, but a cup of coffee in the morning is pretty much the last enjoyable part of any normal day, cancer be damned.

Worth it? Probably, but if you’re trying to cut back, you do have some options


5. Sunshine

Oh, FANTASTIC! The giver of life, our solar system’s only star, the subject of sonnets... causes cancer.

Worth it? No beach? No summers? No springs? Not worth giving up sunshine, though if you’re super concerned, you can try going outside only when it’s cloudy or dark.

4. Going outside

Oh, so walking outside on a sunny day equals double cancer? Wonderful. Thanks, air pollution.

Worth it? Given the equally troubling ramifications of a life of solitude, yes. Unless maybe you’re constantly inside, huddled around a cozy fire, surrounded by loved ones?

3. A cozy fire, surrounded by loved ones

Dammit, WHO! Is nothing safe? Technically, this one is, “Household combustion of biomass fuel (primarily wood), indoor emissions from,” but we can read the subtext.

Worth it? Sunny days are cancerous. Cloudy days are cancerous. You should be able to enjoy the dark of winter in the comfort of your own home, maybe even snuggling up close to an extra-special loved one...


2. Birth control

[Slams head into desk] All those hormones are good for stopping pregnancy, and for causing cancer, apparently.

Worth it? We shudder to think what the current population would look like without it.

1. Alcohol

How else are we supposed to cope with having to think about all the other stuff on this list?

Worth it? Yes, yes, a million times yes

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Anthony Schneck is the health editor at Thrillist. His “worth it” cutoff is somewhere around #15. Follow him: @AnthonySchneck.