Common Cancer Causing Carcinogens You Must Know

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K. Updated as of May 18, 2021.

Cancer Carcinogens

You've probably heard the word “carcinogen" pop up in news stories and wondered what that means for your everyday life. A carcinogen is a substance that has the potential to cause cancer. It may be something in the air, an item you use, or chemicals in your food or drink.

You would not necessarily have cancer just because you came into touch with a carcinogen. Many factors influence the likelihood of being ill. Part of that is how much you've been exposed to it. Your genes play a part as well.

To determine if something could be classified as a carcinogen, scientists use a variety of approaches. Lab animals will be administered large amounts of a substance to see whether they develop cancer. Scientists often analyze the findings of several experiments.


It doesn't matter whether you're a smoker or inhaling someone else's cigarette smoke. Tobacco contains at least 70 substances that are believed to trigger cancer by disrupting your DNA.

While smokeless tobacco seems to be healthier, it may still cause cancer. Even light smoking increases the risk, so speak with your doctor regarding quitting methods.


This gas is found in limited quantities in nature where it is completely harmless. However, radon breaks down the lining of your lungs when it accumulates indoors and you breathe it in.

Of nonsmokers, it is the leading cause of lung cancer. While you can't see or smell radon, a specific test can be used to determine its presence in your house. Some state radon offices provide free packages.


Asbestos' tough, tiny fibres tend to strengthen materials such as roof shingles, ceiling tiles, and automobile components. However, once these fibres split loose and are inhaled, they will get trapped in the lungs.

Asbestos is a carcinogen, according to human and animal studies. Wear safety equipment if you come into touch with it at work. Employ a professional if it's in your house and needs to be removed.

Crispy, Brown Foods

When some vegetables, such as potatoes, are heated to high temperatures, a chemical called acrylamide is released. Researchers believe that rats who ingested acrylamide in their drinking water acquired cancer, and that humans could be affected as well.

Baking, roasting, frying, and toasting foods until they're a tan colour instead of golden or deep brown should be consumed less. Acrylamide can be found in an array of substances as well as cigarette smoke.


This chemical is used in a variety of household materials, from plywood to certain fabrics. Formaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats studies and people exposed to it at work.

Find out whether any wood goods or furniture you purchase for your home contain formaldehyde before you buy it. Every day, air out your household and use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to maintain humidity levels low.

Ultraviolet Rays

UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed are absorbed into the skin and cause harm to the cells there, according to studies. UV rays trigger the majority of skin cancer incidents.

These rays become more strong as a result of pollution and climate change. To remain safe, use sunscreen, wear a hat and shades, and stay away from tanning salons.


The more alcohol you consume, the more likely you are to develop such cancers, such as:

  • Head and neck
  • Oesophageal
  • Breast
  • Liver
  • Colorectal

One cause for this may be the carcinogenic chemicals released during the production of beer, wine, and hard liquor. Women should have no more than one drink a day, whilst men should have no more than two, according to experts.

Processed Meat

Bacon, salami, pepperoni, sausage, and any other cured or flavoured meat may increase the risk of colon cancer. Experts came to this conclusion after reviewing over 800 studies.

It's fine to enjoy a hot dog now and again, but try to minimise the intake of processed meat regularly as much as possible. Limit the intake of salted, fermented, cured, or smoked foods.

Engine Exhaust

Diesel fuel is used in trucks, buses, trains, and also certain automobiles. Lung cancer and other forms of cancer are thought to be caused by the gas and soot in diesel engine emissions.

Avoid idling in traffic or wasting time with diesel powered cars wherever possible. Follow occupational protection rules to preserve your wellbeing if it's part of your job.


Apart from exhaust, dirty outdoor air contains dust, metal traces, and solvents, both of which may cause cancer.

You won't be able to avoid pollution entirely, but you can reduce your contribution by cycling or riding instead of driving. On days where the air quality is poor, pay attention to local public health alerts and remain indoors.


Referenced on 18/4/2021

  1. American Cancer Society: “Known and Probable Human Carcinogens," “Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products," “Diesel Exhaust and Cancer," “How to Test Your Home for Radon," “Asbestos and Cancer Risk," “World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer," “Talcum Powder and Cancer," “Does UV Radiation Cause Cancer?" “Can I Avoid Exposure to UV Radiation?" “Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Cancer Risk," “World Health Organization: Outdoor Air Pollution Causes Cancer," “Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II)."
  2. Cancer Research UK: “How Smoking Causes Cancer," “How Air Pollution Can Cause Cancer."
  3. Environmental Protection Agency: “Health Risk of Radon," “How do I get a radon test kit? Are they free?"
  4. Cancer Council: “How ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes skin cancer."
  5. Reviews on Environmental Health: “Skin cancer: role of ultraviolet radiation in carcinogenesis."
  6., “Do Hormonal Contraceptives Increase Breast Cancer Risk?"
  7. North American Menopause Society: “Hormone Therapy: Benefits and Risks."
  8. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: “Links between air pollution and cancer risk."

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