Scientifically-Proven Cancer Causes: Carcinogens and Gene Mutations

Did you know over 95 percent of the world’s population breathe polluted, dangerous air? Exposure to air pollution increases your risk of many cancers, including of the lung. There are hundreds of other carcinogens in the world: Some may be part of your daily habits, while others may be exposures at work or from the comfort of your home.

In this article, we will discuss the substances known or suspected to cause cancer.

What is a carcinogen?

Changes or mutations in a cell’s genetic blueprint (DNA) cause cancer. A carcinogen is anything with the ability to cause cancer in living tissue. Some carcinogens do not affect DNA directly, but they can lead to cancer in other ways. For instance, they may cause cells to divide at a faster rate than normal, which could increase the chances of DNA changes occurring.

You may inherit cancer-causing DNA mutations from your parents. Other cancers may be because of outside exposures or environmental factors.

What are the top five human carcinogens?

Environmental carcinogens cover a wide range of exposures, such as:

  • Tobacco

According to the National Cancer Institute, smoking accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, and it is responsible for 87 percent of lung cancer cases. Not only does smoking impact the lungs, but it also increases the risk of several cancers. These include cancer of the liver, colon, oral cavity, stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and many others. Quitting smoking immediately decreases your chances of developing cancer.

  • Alcohol

Scientists acknowledge alcohol as a risk factor for no fewer than seven types of cancer. These include the mouth, voice box (laryngeal), upper throat (pharynx), esophageal, breast, and liver. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), other cancers linked to alcohol use include the stomach and pancreas. Though medical researchers established links, the exact reason behind alcohol inducing malignancy is not well-understood. Several mechanisms seem at work, including alcohol’s ability to damage body tissues and its effects on estrogen or other hormones.

  • The world around you

Exposure to asbestos, which are minerals found in housing and industrial building materials, can cause myriad of medical problems like mesothelioma — a rare and life-threatening form of cancer. Moreover, studies have shown that exposure to high amounts of benzene increases the risk of cancer. Benzene is a chemical found in smoke, gasoline, and general pollution.

Hundreds of other substances in the environment could put you at risk, including but not limited to:

  • Radon
  • Engine exhaust
  • Coal gasification
  • Leather dust
  • Wood dust
  • Iron and steel founding
  • Chromium (VI) compounds
  • Formaldehyde
  • Azathioprine
  • Vinyl chloride

Be extra cautious with chemicals in your home. It is also important to understand any new job offer by reading the information provided about the substances you will work with.

  • Ultraviolet radiation

Having tanned skin is popular with teens and adults alike. However, most people do not realize that sunburns and tans are the product of skin damage from ultraviolet rays. Many skin cancer cases are preventable through careful planning. Wearing sunscreen plays an important role, and practicing safe sun exposure can go a long way in prevention.

  • Processed meat

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies processed meats — including salami, ham, bacon, and frankfurts — as a Group 1 carcinogen. The classification means there is strong evidence suggesting processed meats cause cancer. WHO labeled red meat, such as beef, lamb, and pork as a probable cause of colon cancer.

Lean meats are an abundant source of nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. In terms of cancer risk, there is no reason to eliminate red meat entirely from your diet. Instead, you can reduce your cancer risk by limiting the amount you eat. Avoid consuming more red or processed meat than an average 70 grams a day, which is about 500 grams a week.

What is a gene mutation?

If you are rarely exposed to environmental carcinogens, it is important to know that genetics is another significant factor in cancer development.

Cancers that run in families can be due to an abnormal gene passed from one generation to the next. Although this phenomenon is often referred to as inherited cancer, what is actually passed down is the abnormal gene that can lead to cancer—not the malignant disease itself. Medical researchers note that about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers result from gene defects.

You can either acquire or inherit gene defects.

  • An acquired (somatic) mutation does not originate from a parent or blood relative. Rather, a child obtains it later on in his or her life. The mutation starts in a single cell, and is then passed on to new cells formed from the original cell. This mutation is not present in egg or sperm cells, meaning it cannot be passed on to the next generation.
  • An inherited gene mutation is already present in the egg or sperm cell that formed the child. When a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg, it creates one cell that divides several times until it develops into a child. Since all succeeding cells come from the first cell, the mutation exists in every cell (including eggs or sperm) and can be passed onto future generations.

If you have a strong family history of cancers, such as of the breast or prostate, taking extra precautions is crucial. Schedule a meeting with your doctor to discuss prevention.


Studies about the exact cause of cell mutation leading to cancer is ongoing. And since some malignancies may be due to hereditary factors, it is safe to say that carcinogens are not always the cause of cancer diagnoses.

Substances labeled as carcinogens may have varying levels of cancer-causing potential. For example, radon gas may cause cell mutation only after prolonged and extreme levels of exposure. The risk of developing cancer also depends on numerous factors, including how a person is exposed to a carcinogen, the intensity of exposure, and his or her genetic makeup.

If you or someone you love received a cancer diagnosis, contact New Hope Unlimited at 480-757-6573 or complete our online form for alternative cancer treatments with the least impact on the body. It’s time to stop feeling helpless to your disease.

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