Does using plastic bottles and containers cause cancer?

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We know it’s a worrying time for people with cancer, we have information to help. If you have symptoms of cancer contact your doctor.

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No. There is no good evidence that people can get cancer from using plastics. So, doing things like drinking from plastic bottles or using plastic containers and food bags won’t increase your risk of cancer. Some people think that chemicals that can be found in plastics, like bisphenol A (BPA) can get into our food or drink and then cause cancer. Even though some studies have found certain chemicals in plastics can end up in things we may eat and drink, the levels are low, and within a range considered safe to humans. This is even in experiments when plastics are heated for hours at a time.

Other studies on human cells or in animals have suggested some chemicals that can be found in plastics have cancer-causing effects. But these experiments are very different from how people actually come into contact with plastics in their everyday life. So, they don’t give good evidence on cancer risk in humans. For example, studies often put lots of a chemical directly on to one type of cell, which doesn’t happen in the human body.

In the UK, the Food Standard Agency makes sure plastics and other materials that are used for food and drink are safe. You can find out more about the Food Standards Agency here.

Cutting down on plastics won’t affect your cancer risk but it can have environmental benefits.

There are many cancer myths that haven’t been proven to cause cancer. However, there are proven causes of cancer, and things you can do to reduce your risk. Follow this link to find out more.

Image showing that mobile phones, plastic bottles and cosmetics do not cause cancer

We regularly review and evaluate newly published research into the causes of cancer in order to shape our health information. And there are key things we look out for to evaluate any new study.

What type of study is it?

Was the study looking at cells in a dish, animals or people? Studies in animals and cells can help scientists understand the basics of cancer but they cannot replicate how things will work in humans.

So, we focus more on studies in people as they can show with much more certainty how something affects the risk of developing cancer in humans. The best studies also account for other factors that could affect someone’s cancer risk, such as whether they smoke or drink.

How many people were in the study, and how long were they followed for? Studies involving only a handful of people aren’t likely to be as reliable, because results are more likely to happen by chance. And studies that only follow people for a short timeframe can miss any potential long-term effects. Therefore, we mainly look at studies that follow hundreds or usually thousands of people for a long time because they give results we can be surer of.

Who carried out the study and where is it published?

It’s important to see if a study was published in a scientific journal and was carried out by scientists that work for a university or known institute. This is because before researchers can publish their findings in a journal, other experts who were not involved in the study will check it is accurate.

How does the study fit in with previous evidence?

Some studies show conflicting results, but we evaluate any new study within the context of all the available research and give more weight to the most rigorous scientific studies.

How to spot fake news about cancer?

Sometimes news outlets can over-inflate stories about cancer, whether it’s a new treatment, or news on what could lower or increase your risk of developing the disease. You can use the same questions we discussed above to judge a study and news story yourself.  For more tips on how to spot fake news visit our blog here.

Food Standards Agency. BPA in plastic. https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/bpa-in-plastic. Published 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.

EFSA. Scientific Opinion on the risks to public health related to the presence of bisphenol A ( BPA ) in foodstuffs. . 2015;13:1-23. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/150121

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