What is a carcinogen?

Cancer is a result of changes in a cell’s DNA. These changes can either run in family or are caused by  environmental factors (outside exposures) which include:

  • Lifestyle habits (nutrition, smoking,physical activity, etc.)
  • Naturally occurring exposures (UV light, radon gas, infectious agents, etc.)
  • Medical treatments (medicines, radiationtherapy, chemotherapy, hormone drugs, immuno suppressant drugs, )
  • Workplace exposures
  • Household exposures
  • Pollution

Any substance or exposure that could lead to cancer are called carcinogens. Sometimes, carcinogens do not directly lead to DNA changes, but cause cancer in other ways. For instance, it makes cells multiply in abnormally fast rate, increasing chances of DNA changes occurance.

Also, not in every case does a carcinogen result in cancer. The potential of causing cancer is different between carcinogen. Some only cause cancer after long-term exposure in high levels. Other times, the likelihood of developing cancer depends on how a person comes into contact with a certain carcinogen or his genetic makeup.

How do scientists identify a carcinogen?

It’s never a simple task to test and determine if a substance is a carcinogen. Scientists can not have volunteers expose themselves to the carcinogen and see if they develop cancer since it’s against humanity. Thus, they have to use alternative tests which may not always give clear answers.

Accordingly, there are two types of tests being use:

Lab studies: studies conducted on cell cultures and animals

Studies in people: epidemiologic studies looking at human populations to determine the factors that might be linked to cancer

How to limit exposure to carcinogens?

In some country, the government has set regulations to reduce exposures to known carcinogens in the workplace. People can also contribute to protecting themselves with these steps:

  • Test the basement for radon
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit UV rays exposure
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Five primary categories of cancer-causing carcinogens

Tobacco smoke

Chemicals that are used during the production of tobacco can cause cancer.  Smoking is directly linked to cancer of the lungs, esophagus, respiratory tract, bladder, and pancreas.


Top cancer causing foods are genetically modified foods, microwave popcorn, canned goods, grilled red meat, refined sugar, salted, pickled, and smoked foods, soda and carbonated beverages, white flour, farmed fish, hydrogenated oils


Some viruses, bacteria, and parasites can lead to cancer.  Examples of pathogens that can be carcinogenic in the human body include hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus (HPV), and Epstein-Barr.


This group of factors include radioactive materials (X-rays, for example) and harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Environmental and occupational hazards

Polluted air, water, and soil can lead to lungs and bladder cancers.

Occupational hazards put people whose job involves working with cancer-causing carcinogens like asbestos, lead, benzene, and vinyl chloride at risk.

Other known to be cancer-causing carcinogens in human include:

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Coal Tars
  • Formaldehyde
  • Mustard Gas
  • Solar Radiation
  • Wood Dust

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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