Many risk factors can lead to the development of cancer. These factors include lifestyle behaviors, age, family history, genetic makeup, and contact with harmful chemicals within our environment.
Environmental chemicals are used every day by Americans and can be found in food, personal products, packaging, medication, water, at work, in household and lawn care products, and even in the air. These substances are commonly known as carcinogens which can cause cancer cells to develop due to exposure.
What are carcinogens?
Carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer. They can either directly alter our DNA leading to mutations or interfere with our cell’s processes leading to an increased risk of mutations in our cells.
We are exposed to carcinogens daily even within our home or while spending time outside. It is important to note that carcinogens do not cause cancer in everyone who is exposed as the ability of a carcinogen varies.
Common types of carcinogens include:
- Chemical substances – These include cleaning products, paints, herbicides, pesticides, and insulation materials
- Environmental radiation – Ultraviolet radiation from the sun, radon gas, and infectious agents are forms of environmental radiation
- Lifestyle behaviors – Tobacco usage, excessive consumption of alcohol, certain foods, and other unhealthy behaviors
- Medications – hormonal medication and immunosuppressants can increase your risk of developing cancer as can radiation therapies used to diagnose and treat cancer.
- Pollution – harmful chemicals that can contaminate the air, soil or water
- Viruses – Diseases such as HPV, Hepatitis C, and other forms of cancer can continue to spread leading to cancer developing in other parts of the body and are therefore considered carcinogens.
There are several agencies around the world that research and decide on which environmental chemicals are carcinogens. The National Toxicology Program (NTP), U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) work together to develop lists of substances that are known to be human carcinogens.
There are 5 classification levels for carcinogens:
- Group 1 – Proven carcinogenic to humans
- Group 2A – Probably carcinogenic to humans
- Group 2B – Possibly carcinogenic to humans
- Group 3 – Unclassifiable carcinogenic
- Group 4 – Unlikely carcinogenic to humans
Does exposure always result in cancer?
Any substance that can cause or has the potential to cause cancer is known as a carcinogen. However, that does not mean that every carcinogen will cause cancer. Many factors influence whether a person exposed to certain carcinogens will develop cancer. This includes the amount and duration of exposure as well as the individual’s background and lifestyle.
If you notice any changes in your body or suspect exposure, it is important to go to your doctor for a thorough examination. They will conduct several tests that may include ultrasounds, x-rays, CT or MRI scans, and possible biopsy. Once diagnosed, treatment can begin and will depend on your condition.
How can exposures be limited?
Where there are known carcinogens, protocols and regulations are put into place to limit exposure in the workplace. Outside of work people can limit their exposure by practicing the following recommendations.
- Read labels and research chemicals or ingredients that you are unfamiliar with. Some products will note if they contain carcinogens.
- Follow the directions for safe handling and storage of chemicals at home. Wear a mask and gloves when working and ensure proper ventilation to reduce the risk of exposure.
- Consider using alternative products such as all-natural home cleaners that can effectively clean your home without the use of any harmful chemicals and potential carcinogens.
- Avoid using tobacco products and limit your alcohol intake. Use sunscreen and appropriate clothing to reduce sun exposure.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight.
- Remember to visit your doctor annually for routine screenings and necessary vaccinations.
In recent events (within the last month) there has been extensive news coverage of the glyphosate lawsuit also known as the Roundup lawsuit.
In 2018, Bayer acquired the company known as Monsanto (who developed Roundup) and has recently faced tens of thousands of claims linking the weed killer to cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Last month, Bayer agreed to pay over 10 billion dollars to settle current claims as well as set money aside for future cases as it will continue to sell the product without carcinogenic warning labels.
Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, was listed as a Group 2A carcinogen by the IRAC in 2015. However, Bayer, the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the Environmental Protection Agency have ruled against that rating stating that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer despite thousands of lawsuits claiming otherwise.
Many of the plaintiffs are farmers and agriculturalists who support the country’s food industry as well as homeowners and groundskeepers who have been affected by the use of Roundup as well.
Bayer also inherited several other lawsuits against Monsanto’s use of carcinogens including a dicamba lawsuit where the chemical was sprayed over crops and damaged several nearby communities due to run-off. As well as a PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, lawsuits where the chemicals were used polluted public water systems.
Hundreds of plaintiffs have decided not to agree to the settlement as the settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing or liability from Bayer. Bayer states they will continue to work with the public to settle these claims while upholding that their product is safe and effective compared to other products on the market.
For more information on environmental chemicals and carcinogens or to find out how we can help you, please contact New Medical Center today.