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Carcinogens and How They Cause Cancer

There are many risk factors associated with cancer. Thanks to the media, we know several substances that may cause cancer. Carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer after exposure to them. You can call many substances carcinogens, such as asbestos, UV rays, automobile exhaust, certain viruses, etc. Don’t think you will surely get cancer if exposed to carcinogens. Many factors come into play, like the amount and duration of exposure, your genes, etc.

Cancer and the role of carcinogens

Cancer is the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells. They may spread to other body parts i.e., metastasis. Cancer can also result from a mutation in the cell. Carcinogens Cancer is the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells. Cancer cells may spread to other body parts, i.e., metastasis. Cancer can also result from a mutation in the cell. Carcinogens can damage the DNA, can make it function abnormally, and eventually lead to increased cell division. It may eventually lead to cancer. Another mechanism is that carcinogens can interfere with the repair work of the cell. If any damage is caused to DNA’s repair mechanism, then our body might be able to undo the damage caused. Hence, this will lead to cancer.

Another way that you can use to classify carcinogens is based on how they interact with our bodies. Some substances can directly cause cancer upon exposure. Although, some substances don’t cause cancer unless they change when our body processes them. Such substances are procarcinogens. On the other hand, some substances are not carcinogenic at all. But when these combine with certain substances, they could be carcinogenic.

How can you come in contact with carcinogens?

Carcinogens are very common and are, in fact, all around us. Still, we don’t get cancer. So, do not panic, but at the same time, have an idea about the risk factors and such substances. You can come in contact with a carcinogenic in several ways. We will discuss them one by one here.

Exposure at work

Some workspaces have more carcinogens than the other workplaces. Hence, they pose an increased risk of cancer. You might have a greater cancer risk if you work at such places. Such job places are chemical plants, factories, shipbuilding facilities, nuclear sites, mines, cotton or fabric industries, etc.

For instance, you may work in a chemical plant which means exposure to harmful chemicals is hard to avoid. So, you are at a higher risk of getting cancer. Silica, tar, radon, soot, nickel refining, foundry substances, chromium compounds, asbestos, coke oven fumes, and cadmium can cause lung cancer.

Environmental exposure

Most of the environmental exposure is human-made. Pollution is the leading cause of such carcinogenic exposure. If you want to find the biggest culprit, then air pollution is the answer. Whether indoor or outdoor, air pollution causes lung cancer in so many people every year. Automobile exhaust, dust particles, particulates, metals, and other harmful substances affect the people living in the areas nearby factories, industries, and mining sites. 

You should be careful about what you drink. Even the drinking water is not free of pollution. Underground water may contain pesticides, heavy metals, and other carcinogenic chemicals. You may test your drinking water to ensure its safety. 

Medical treatments and medicines

Although medicines and medical treatments help us get better and recover our health, they can increase the chances of getting cancer. You may take hormone-related drugs like oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. These are some risk factors for cancer in women. Apart from these, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause cancer too. Even though these treatments are meant to treat cancer, they can add to your risk involved with getting another type of cancer.

Some medicines used to treat blood pressure and heartburn have NDMA contamination. Hence, these may cause cancer. Let’s take another example: medications used for Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis may again increase your risk.

Lifestyle exposure

Your lifestyle habits and choices are important factors for determining if you are exposed to carcinogens. By lifestyle exposure, we mean what you eat or the products you use daily. Some food might contain carcinogens, mainly processed and packaged foods. They contain preservatives and synthetic flavours. Some of these chemicals may increase the risk of getting cancer. Even if they have any harmful chemicals, the way of processing can also make them a risk factor. Cooking at a high temperature can lead to the formation of oxides which may be carcinogens.

Intake of tobacco and alcohol might increase the risk involved too. You can be exposed to tobacco in many ways. This includes chewing, smoking, or inhaling the smoke when others smoke. You may consider it counterintuitive that nicotine is not carcinogenic. Nicotine is present in cigarettes and tobacco leaves, so people might have started to think like that. On the other hand, many chemicals present in cigarettes can cause cancer. One of them is tar which adds flavour to the cigarettes.

Other sources of carcinogens can be products we use. These can vary from talc powder to makeup materials. Formaldehyde is one such candidate as it is carcinogenic. Several beauty products contain formaldehyde and asbestos- another carcinogen.

What should you do?

You cannot control everything around you. But you can limit your exposure to the possible carcinogens. Regulations can help to limit exposure in the workplace. Plus, one can use safety gear and practices to ensure an extra level of safety. For lifestyle exposure, you can restrict the intake of alcohol and cigarettes. Use the products free of harmful substances. Don’t overeat processed and packaged foods or food products. Apply sunscreens before going out in the sun. Ask your doctors about the medicines and treatment and how you can decrease your risks.

Remember that exposure to carcinogens doesn’t mean that you will get cancer. But you should act wisely and take precautions to decrease your risk. 

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