A carcinogen is one of the primary causes of cancer; it refers to any physical or chemical substance which increases the incidence of tumor development after administration in the body through an appropriate route. We exposed to plenty of carcinogens in our daily life, but sadly, still unaware of them. These include tobacco, burnt food items, processed meat, trans fats, fermented food, and several other which we can’t completely eradicate from our life. The good news is that with a portion of balanced food, habits, and lifestyle, one can minimize the risk of cancer.
A few of the carcinogens we interact in our daily life and safety measures against them discussed here:
A well-known carcinogenic chemical present in cigarettes and the leading cause of lung cancer all over the world. Tobacco contains at least 70 chemicals like nicotine and other toxic compounds, which can lead to DNA damage and ultimately cause cancer. It can even increase the cancer risk up-to 70% in passive smokers or exposed to secondhand smoke.
It’s never too late to quit smoking so, try your best to control cravings for tobacco. There are specific safety measures to be considered:
- Nicotine replacement therapy usually suggested by physicians.
- Engage yourself in physical activities that can help you to distract from tobacco cravings.
- Proper counseling and relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and moral support also play a vital role.
However, there is no safe level of exposure when it comes to secondhand smoking, government, and other law enforcement agencies need to formulate strict policies to ban smoking in public places and workplace premises as well.
Alcohol is classified as ‘’Group one Carcinogen’’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as it can cause damage to the lining of the Gastro-Intestinal Tract (GIT), especially of mouth and throat, and serve as a causative agent of certain cancer types. Alcohol can alter hormonal levels and increase the risk of breast cancer in a woman up to 5%. Drinking alcohol reduces body efficiency to process and metabolize vital nutrients like vitamins and carotenoids, and it also affects the metabolism of anticancer drugs. According to an estimate published in the research report, there are about 3200 people diagnosed with cancer due to overconsumption of alcohol.
To avoid the harmful effects, one should
- Limit alcohol consumption to parties and special occasions and try to reduce the use as far as possible.
- Folate based medicines may help to reduce the risk and provide protection against breast cancer.
Processed meat, including bacon, lunchmeat, and sausage identified and classified as ‘’Group one Carcinogen’’ by the World Health Organization. They contain nitrites or nitrates which possess the good potential to be carcinogenic and get converted into carcinogenic nitrosamines by heating. According to the scientific director of epidemiology research for the ACS, Marji McCullough, these substances can raise the risk of colorectal and other types of cancer. Nitrosamines formation can also be trigger by digestive acids. McCullough also claimed that processed beef and lamb also contain nitrites and nitrates.
We can’t simply cut off meat from our diet, but we can go for the best alternatives and as people are becoming aware of risks. Some precautions are;
- Manufacturing companies adopted the new mode of processing without including nitrates and nitrites to maintain their customer loyalty.
- The plant-based diet is also an option to avoid risk.
- Grilled meat:
Roasted meat can create carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). According to research and studies, we have found that these compounds make us more prone to develop cancer via DNA damage.
‘’All these things are muscle proteins, and when we apply high internal temperature, it causes them to breakdown into a cancer-causing substance which can lead to DNA damage.’’ Denise Snyder, R.D.
Simple precautions during grilling may reduce cancer risk:
- Flip meats more often during grilling.
- Use thinner cuts of meats these cook faster, equaling less time.
- Marinating the meats before grilling can also reduce the carcinogenic substance formation.
- Grill with aluminum foil to prevent flare-ups
- Partially cooking the meat first in the microwave will reduce grilling time and, ultimately, direct, prolonged exposure of meat to high temperatures.
Trans fats refer to human-made or saturated fats present in a variety of food items, whole milk, and baked goods like cakes, cookies, frozen pizza. Research suggests that they directly linked to the risk of prostate, breast, and colon cancer. Their levels play an important role as in reasonable amounts, they don’t cause harm, but in case of a high amount, they increase the risk of breast cancer up to two times in women.
We can reduce the associated risk by:
- Lowering trans fats containing food consumption.
- Try to eat more natural and raw food, including vegetables and fruit salad.
- Prefer reduced-fat milk over whole milk.
- Compare the fat content of products by reading the labels carefully.
- Instead of butter or margarine, you should prefer herbs, spices, and lemon juice for cooking and make your food plateable.
Despite knowing the carcinogenic aspect of styrene, it is still a widely used component in the manufacturing of different types of utensils and mainly to make disposable plastic products such as cups, plates, trays. Styrene found in the urine samples of 87% of people tested in centers of disease control and prevention study. When these containers are used for the packing of hot food items and beverages, there is a risk of leaching some chemicals into food. A long term exposure of these increases the risk of multiple types of lymphoma in humans like damaging white blood cells and also responsible for esophageal and pancreatic cancers.
To avoid the associated risk, we should
- Use personal reusable coffee mug and water bottles.
- We should prefer paper products and aluminum foil for packing instead of foam.
Tetrachloroethylene, Chemical used in Dry cleaning
Tetrachloroethylene, also commonly known as perc, is a synthetic colorless liquid chemical that has widely in use for dry cleaning as a chemical intermediate, metal degreaser, and as a component of some consumer products. It has classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’’ by National Toxicology Program (NTP), and International Agency for research on cancer classified it as a ‘’Group 2A Carcinogen’’. Exposure to perc can occur in some work environments or from the air, water, and soils that have contaminated. Occupational exposure to perc primarily occurs in the industry using the Chemical such as dry cleaning and the relevant manufacturing companies. Once it enters the body, it can remain stored in fat tissues and progressively lead to kidney and liver cancers.
We can reduce the risk by following specific precautionary measures:
- Avoid taking your clothes to dry cleaners that use tetrachloroethylene as a cleaning agent.
- Silicone and hydrocarbon-based solvents could be better alternative compounds for dry cleaning purposes.
Although they are limited in number but still some cosmetics and personal care products like Nail polish contain carcinogenic formaldehyde, phenacetin, coal tar, and many other potential carcinogens. People working at salons are also subjected to a higher risk of developing multiple myeloma, due to long term exposure to fumes and dust particles in cosmetic products. Following are some safety measures to be taken:
- Reduce the risk at workplaces by wearing masks and gloves.
- Proper ventilation helps to reduce the risk factors.
- We should also carefully read the labels on products and try to avoid the ones with more carcinogenic contents.
According to the ACS report, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other types of cancers combined, and the number is getting higher with each passing day. Prolonged exposure to UV radiations from sun cause upregulated proliferation or division of skin cells and serve as one of the primary causes of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers.
As we need vitamin D from sunlight, and we can’t eradicate it from our life, but we can reduce the risk by following ways:
- Using appropriate medicated sunscreens and other personal care products.
- We should keep the exposure on a moderate level and should wear protective clothing during our outdoor activities.
In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified diesel exhaust as a carcinogen based on evidence of its involvement in lung cancer. Employees working at the gas stations and fuel agencies are at higher risk, but due to the drastic climate changes and increased proportions of vehicles all around the populated areas, making all of us prone to acquire multiple respiratory, cardiovascular diseases and ultimately leading toward lung cancer. Diesel exhaust contains about 40 different toxic substances, including carbon dioxides, nitrogen, and much more.
We can lower the risk by following precautionary measures:
- Reduce the duration of exposure.
- We can effectively eliminate by using alternatives like electric or other types of power sources.
- We should keep a check on the maintenance of a vehicle and ensure that no leaking of fuel in the passenger area.
- Exhaust treatment systems such as converters, filters, and catalysts also aid in lowering the production of harmful compounds while running the engine.
There is a variety of potential carcinogens in our environment and indulged in our lifestyles up-to a greater extent. We can’t completely cut off these substances, but can reduce the risk associated with them by following appropriate precautionary measures and live a better and healthier life.
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Iqra Bibi is BS BIOCHEMISTRY student at Quaid e Azam University. She is serving YOLO as an academic Secretary and Also part of the event management team of various non-profit organizations. She loves to write Urdu poetry and work for its promotion through her Youtube channel “Harf e Junoon”. Her hobbies include novels and book reading.