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12 myths about carcinogens you can't believe in for a long time
12 myths about carcinogens you can't believe in for a long time

Healthy eating is not a panacea, and sausage is not unambiguous harm.

12 myths about carcinogens you can't believe in for a long time
12 myths about carcinogens you can't believe in for a long time

The word "carcinogen" comes from the Latin cancer - "cancer." This term denotes What is a carcinogen? / American Cancer Society anything that can cause the formation of malignant tumors.

The concept has long been widely known. In many respects, therefore, it is used at random, often attributing carcinogenic properties to those substances or phenomena that are not associated with cancer in any way. Or, on the contrary, considering safe those that actually threaten health. The life hacker sorted out the most popular myths about carcinogens.

1. Carcinogens are only food

Not at all. Carcinogens are a broad concept that includes both objects that can be touched or eaten, as well as natural phenomena or other factors. They have only one thing in common: they are all capable of leading to the development of oncological processes.

Besides food, cancer triggers can be What is a carcinogen? / American Cancer Society:

  • bad habits - smoking, alcoholism;
  • natural factors - ultraviolet radiation, radon gas, causative agents of some infectious diseases (hepatitis C, human papillomavirus, Epstein-Barr viruses);
  • medical factors - various types of radiation, taking certain medications;
  • work in a hazardous production when a person breathes in toxic substances or touches them;
  • contact with environmental pollutants - for example, exhaust gases and chemical emissions;
  • genetic features.

2. All carcinogens are dangerous and certainly cause cancer

The list of carcinogens includes thousands of substances and phenomena. However, scientists still cannot say for sure that this product or phenomenon will cause cancer, and the other will not. For the body to begin to develop a malignant neoplasm, many conditions of the Known and Probable Human Carcinogens / American Cancer Society must meet.

Some carcinogens become dangerous only with a certain type of contact: for example, it is not enough to touch them - they must be inhaled or swallowed. Also important are the dose, the exposure time, the genetics of the one who is exposed to this influence, and other factors that scientists have not fully understood.

The result is paradoxical situations. Someone discovers throat or lung cancer after a couple of years of daily smoking. And the other has been smoking for decades without any malignant consequences.

It will not work to predict which of the carcinogens is dangerous in your case, and which you can give up. Too much depends on a coincidence.

The only thing that each of us can do is to try to minimize the influence of most carcinogens on the body. However, this also does not guarantee one hundred percent protection against cancer.

3. If you avoid all chemistry and lead a healthy lifestyle, you will not get cancer

“Before, people ate normal food, breathed clean air, did not wash with any chemistry - and they did not have cancer!” You've probably heard something like that. Many people associate carcinogenicity with synthetic, artificially created substances or phenomena. But in reality there is no such connection.

The completely natural B. N. Ames, L. Swirsky Gold also lead to DNA mutations that trigger the development of malignant cells. Paracelsus to Parascience: The Environmental Cancer Distraction / Mutation Research / Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis

Not only that, scientists from Johns Hopkins University discovered New Study Finds That Most Cancer Mutations are Due to Random DNA Copying ‘Mistakes’ / Johns Hopkins Medicine that two-thirds of the mutations leading to cancer arise from random errors in natural DNA copying. And only the rest is under the influence of carcinogens.

Cancer occurs no matter how healthy your environment is New Study Finds That Most Cancer Mutations are Due to Random DNA Copying ‘Mistakes’ / Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Bert Vogelstein Professor of Oncology

That is why cancer often affects even those who lead a healthy lifestyle: they do not drink, do not smoke, live in an ecologically clean area, eat natural products, play sports and monitor their weight.

4. There are no carcinogens in fruits, vegetables and nuts

This is often thought of because plant foods are rich in antioxidants. This is the name of substances that protect the body from free radicals that can provoke DNA mutations in Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention / National Cancer Institute.

The fact that plants contain potentially useful substances does not make them unequivocally safe.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC; a division of WHO What is a carcinogen? / American Cancer Society) has compiled a list of Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1–125 / International Agency for Research on Cancer / World Health Organization of carcinogens. In the constantly updated list, you can also find "plant" items. For example, coconut oil and aloe are potentially carcinogenic.

Or the most powerful carcinogen - aflatoxins. These dangerous compounds are produced by molds, which settle on long-stored grains and nuts, in peanut butter.

As for vegetables and fruits, any of them, even grown without fertilizers, contain nitrates H. Salehzadeh, A. Maleki, R. Rezaee et al. The Nitrate Content of Fresh and Cooked Vegetables and Their Health-related Risks / PLOS ONE - nitric acid salts essential for development and growth. These are natural substances that plants receive from the soil. Once in the human body, nitrates are converted by A. H. Gorenjak, A. Cencič. Nitrate in Vegetables and Their Impact on Human Health. A Review / Acta Alimentaria into toxic nitrites, and those into carcinogens nitrosamines.

The nitrate content in quality vegetables and fruits is low and therefore does not pose a serious danger. But in plant foods that were grown using nitrogenous fertilizers, the concentration of these salts can be increased.

Another risk factor is pesticides. These weed control chemicals are carcinogenic and related by K. L. Bassil, C. Vakil, M. Sanborn et al. Cancer Health Effects of Pesticides: Systematic Review / Canadian Family Physician with the development of, inter alia, leukemia, brain cancer, prostate, kidney.

5. Drinking a lot of coffee can lead to cancer

Indeed, coffee is on the IARC list of carcinogens. But here we need to take a closer look at what this list is.

All substances and exposures studied by IARC are assigned a special digital code IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Human / International Agency for Research on Cancer / World Health Organization, indicating the degree of their hazard.

  • 1 - carcinogenic to humans.
  • 2A and 2B are potentially carcinogenic to humans. Category A ("highly likely to cause cancer") has a higher hazard than category B ("possibly causes cancer"). In both cases, the conclusions are based on a limited number of studies and are therefore not considered conclusive.
  • 3 - Not classified as carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is no evidence of a link between substances and cancer in humans, but it is sometimes found in animal studies.
  • 4 - non-carcinogenic to humans.

Coffee belongs to category 3: it is not carcinogenic to humans.

6. If you eat meat and sausage, you will definitely get cancer

But this application has more solid grounds. Red meat (pork, beef) in the IARC classification is included in category 2A. And meat products - sausages, sausages, smoked meats - have been assigned code 1. The same group includes such well-known carcinogens as cigarette smoke, solar and X-ray radiation, exhaust gases and, for example, plutonium.

But are sunlight and ham or beef jerky as bad as X-rays and plutonium?

Of course not. As Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat / World Health Organization WHO explains, just because a substance or exposure falls into the same category does not mean that they are equally dangerous. The IARC classification reflects only the degree of credibility of scientific evidence that a particular factor is the cause of cancer. But it does not assess the risks, that is, the frequency and rate of DNA mutations.

So, the connection of meat with the occurrence of cancer (specifically - colorectal) has been established. But meat products do not lead to oncological processes quickly and by no means always: much depends on how many steaks or sausages you eat.

According to Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat / World Health Organization WHO, eating 50 grams or more of meats daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18% compared to those who eat less. However, the same WHO calls not to abandon red and processed meat at all, but only to reduce its amount in the diet, rightly pointing out that animal protein is important for health.

To reduce the risks, it is enough to eat no more than 50-70 Meat in Your Diet / NHS g of meat or sausages per day.

And, as mentioned above, food is by no means the main factor in the development of cancer.

7. The main carcinogens are stress and resentment

The myth about the psychosomatic nature of cancer is very common. Someone thinks that accumulated and unspoken grievances cause oncology. Others call cancer "a program of self-destruction for those who have failed to learn to love themselves."

However, there is no scientific evidence that resentment, stress, any other negative (and positive) emotions could lead to DNA mutations.

Another question is that people under constant stress often acquire bad habits - they start smoking, drinking, overeating, and restrict physical activity. This lifestyle really increases the risk of developing cancer. This is clearly stated by the WHO, which lists Cancer / World Health Organization as the most frequent "behavioral" causes of cancer death:

  • high body mass index;
  • low consumption of fruits and vegetables;
  • lack of physical activity;
  • smoking and alcohol addiction.

Conclusion: it is not so much stress and resentment that you need to fear, but an unhealthy lifestyle in general.

8. If you fry food in a Teflon pan (especially scratched), the dish will become carcinogenic

There are some reasons for this myth. For the production of Teflon non-stick coatings, materials are sometimes used that contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a probable carcinogen (group 2A in the IARC classification). When heated, this substance can theoretically be released into the air.

In practice, however, it was not possible to confirm the danger of such a coating. For example, Robert Walk, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and author of What Einstein Said to His Chef, is reminiscent of Teflon Pans and Cancer: Is There a Link? / WebMD: the production of non-stick cookware is a long process that includes heating to high temperatures. So all of the PFO leaves the coating even before the pan reaches the store.

There is no PFOA in the finished Teflon product, so there is no risk of the cookware causing cancer in those who use it.

Robert Walk Professor of Chemistry, Commentary for WebMD

In a study by E. L. Bradley, W. A. Read, L. Castle. Investigation into the Migration Potential of Coating Materials from Cookware Products / Food Additives & Contaminants, published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, scientists tested 26 non-stick pans and pans. They heated them up to 250 ° C for 30 minutes and did not find any harmful substances either in the ambient air or in the cooked dishes.

The only negative effect is the possible occurrence of flu-like symptoms if you inhale the vapors of a very overheated coating. According to the Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Teflon, and Related Chemicals / American Cancer Society of the American Cancer Society, there are no other proven health risks when using Teflon cookware.

9. Microwaves add carcinogens to food

A microwave oven heats food, but does not change the chemical or molecular structure of Microwaves, Radio Waves, and Other Types of Radiofrequency Radiation / American Cancer Society. Moreover, microwave radiation does not alter the DNA in your cells - at least for the simple reason that it is inside the oven and you are outside.

Some people are afraid to stand next to working microwaves. But the WHO does not tire of repeating Radiation: Microwave Ovens / World Health Organization: working ovens are safe, and their radiation outside a closed door tends to zero. If you are still worried, just move half a meter away from the switched on device: at such a distance, the level of even that minimal radiation, which, purely theoretically, can be recorded near the door, will decrease a hundred times.

10. Radiation from mobile phones causes cancer

There is no Cellular Phones / American Cancer Society research yet that has established a link between cell phone use and the development of tumors.

But scientists are reinsured. Therefore, IARC has classified the entire spectrum of radio frequency emissions, of which mobile signals are a part, as “Possibly carcinogenic” (Category 2B). For comparison, this group includes the use of pickled vegetables and the use of talcum powder.

11. Regular shampoos contain carcinogens, so you need to switch to organic

The cancer-causing ability is most commonly attributed to sodium lauryl and sodium laureth sulfate, surfactants (surfactants) found in many shampoos, shower gels, foams, dishwashing detergents, and other detergents. And this is a blatant delusion.

Neither sodium lauryl nor sodium laureth sulfate are included in the IARC Carcinogen List and Table 1. Prioritized Chronic Dose-Response Values for Screening Risk Assessments / U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, compiled by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. So there is no point in switching to more expensive (and not always effective) organic cosmetics solely for fear of earning cancer.

12. There are ways not to deal with carcinogens at all

That is unlikely. Even sunlight, tea or drinking water have a carcinogenic effect.

In the fourth category (IARC list - Lifehacker), the category of proven non-carcinogens, there is only one substance - caprolactam, which is what women's tights are made of. All other substances in the world to one degree or another belong to Aleksey Vodovozov - Which is more dangerous: a cigarette or a sausage? / SciencePRO / YouTube by this agency to carcinogens.

Alexey Vodovozov, therapist of the highest category, interview to the YouTube channel NaukaPRO

Therefore, it will not be possible to completely avoid contact with carcinogens. No matter how hard you try.

But there is good news as well. We come across many carcinogens in metered quantities and are not under their influence for a long time. This means that the risk that they can harm is not so great.

The best thing to do is to stop thinking about how many carcinogens are in toast or, say, hair dye, and focus on the things that affect our lives more and longer:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Take care of good nutrition.
  • Increase physical activity and normalize weight.
  • Monitor your health - regularly undergo preventive medical examinations.

This is really important.