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A carcinogen is an agent that can cause cancer. Here are the carcinogens one should be aware of


The incidence of cancer is ever increasing in our population especially amongst the youth and extensive research towards cancer is being carried out to find out the causative agents responsible for cancer where the term ‘carcinogen’ has been given to identify any agent which is known to cause cancer. A carcinogen is usually a substance or an agent that can cause cancer and carcinogens could be man-made or could be environmental hence, an individual one must be extremely aware and careful while exposing oneself to these substances due to their innate cancer-causing potential.

What are the carcinogens one should be aware of?

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Prasad Kasbekar, Consultant Surgical Oncologist at Masina Hospital in Mumbai’s Byculla, revealed, “The two most famous carcinogens are tobacco and alcohol. Numerous campaigns have been carried out against these agents highlighting their risk. They are known to cause a whole plethora of cancers such as mouth, lung, liver, colon and bladder. Even after such campaigns, the incidence of these agents associated cancers is on the rise.”

Any unsupervised chemical agent may cause cancer. He said, “Usage of adulterated food items, food containing pesticides and heavy consumption of non-organic food items is also associated with cancer especially of the gut. One should be very particular of the source of their food items and ensure that they take from reputed sources. The same rule applies to cosmetics and other body agents. One should not use substances which are not FDA or ISO approved.”

Adding that sunlight is also a silent killer, Dr Prasad Kasbekar shared that exposure to excessive sunlight is dangerous and along with heatstroke related complications is also known to cause skin cancers. He said, “This is more pertinent towards fair skin individuals but even dark skinned are usually not spared. These are the most well-known carcinogens however more than a hundred different agents have been identified. A simple rule to remember is to moderate anything we consume excessive usage of anything is bad and harmful.”

According to Dr Sewanti Limaye, Director, Precision and Medical Oncology at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, carcinogens usually cause DNA breakdown over a period of time and could contribute to carcinogenesis with slow tissue damage inflicted over long periods of time. He highlighted, “Some examples of carcinogens are oral tobacco or smoking, alcohol in any quantity, environmental pollutants like asbestos ultraviolet rays, fumes and exhausts, red meat. Different types of radiation can also be DNA damaging. Certain plants and organisms could also contribute to carcinogenesis like aflatoxin B-1 from aspergillus fungus, Helicobacter pylori which is the bacteria that could be responsible for gastric cancers, human papilloma virus that could cause cervix cancer and certain types of head and neck cancers.”

Since exposure to carcinogens could lead to slow conversion of regular cells to pre-cancerous forms and then finally to cancer, Dr Sewanti Limaye advised, “By preventing exposure to carcinogens we may be able to prevent carcinogenesis. Smoking cessation, eliminating oral tobacco use and alcohol use, using sunscreen to prevent damage from ultraviolet rays are all measures to prevent carcinogens from promoting carcinogenesis.”



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