10 Common Carcinogens You Should Know About

Have you heard the word carcinogen before? It sounds scary, right? It should. It means it could potentially cause cancer cells. You can find them in the air you breathe the food you eat, and the products you use.
While you can’t prevent exposure to every carcinogen possible, you can educate yourself and limit your exposure to the most dangerous and common carcinogens known today. The Cancer Center of America sees patients daily living with cancer from exposure to some of the most common carcinogens below.

1. Sun

The sun may feel good, but its UV rays cause cancer cells. UV rays are a form of radiation that falls within the mid-range of dangerous emissions. While you don’t have to avoid the sun altogether, you do need to protect your skin, especially if you are out during peak hours (10 AM – 4 PM). It’s important to wear proper sunscreen with zinc oxide that helps block the UV rays from being absorbed into your skin. You can also wear protective clothing and sunglasses to protect yourself further.
The sun gives off two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are the least damaging and mostly cause the signs of aging and put you at risk for a few cancers. UVB rays, on the other hand, have more energy and are responsible for most types of skin cancers.

2. X-Rays

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X-rays help medical professionals diagnose illnesses and injuries, but they emit radiation in high energy sources that can damage a cell’s DNA. The energy may cause a cell to die, but it may also cause cancer cells to grow. The damage the radiation from x-rays causes happens in less than a second, but the effects aren’t seen for many years. While x-rays are an important part of the medical industry, limiting exposure is crucial when possible.

3. Radon

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Radon is found in nature. It’s colorless and odorless, so you would never know that it’s there. It occurs from the breakdown of uranium, found in dirt and rock. The radon itself transmits through the air and water. Radon is present in outdoor air, in rivers and lakes, in homes and buildings, and in well water. Radon attaches itself to small particles, such as dust, which we then breathe into our body which causes damage to our cell’s DNA.

4. Formaldehyde

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Formaldehyde is an ingredient in more products than you may realize. According to the EPA, it’s a possible carcinogen that most commonly causes a form of leukemia. You can find formaldehyde in plywood, fabrics, makeup, facial and body care products. It sometimes is disguised as other products that are formaldehyde-releasers. Look for ingredients such as DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, or 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1.

5. Tobacco

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Smoking, whether it’s you or someone else, can cause cancer. Tobacco contains at least 70 cancer-causing chemicals including PAH, aromatic amines, and benzene. Smoking cigarettes and cigars put you at risk for cancer, but smokeless products are just as harmful. Chewing tobacco and snuff both contain harmful carcinogens that cause cancer cells. The manufacturers of e-cigarettes claim their products are ‘risk-free,’ however, they too contain harmful substances that may cause cancer, just to a lesser degree. Second-hand smoke is just as real of a risk for non-smokers as well, so it’s important to protect yourself from smoke inhalation.

6. Diesel Exhaust

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Diesel fuel, used in trucks, buses, and trains may cause cancer. Its gases and soot (what makes up diesel) both release PAHs, which may cause cancer. Diesel exhaust is a real threat, even if you don’t drive a vehicle that uses diesel. It’s the exhaust exposure that puts you at risk. You can be exposed at work, if you work around diesel vehicles, on the roadways, or even at home.

7. Wood Dust

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Cutting wood creates wood dust which can cause cancer of the sinuses and nasal passages. It happens mostly in people working in carpentry or furniture-making industries. If you work in an industry that produces a lot of wood dust, it’s important to protect yourself with personal protectants, such as respiratory masks, as well as only work in well-ventilated areas designed to reduce the exposure to the wood dust particles.

8. Asbestos

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Asbestos is found in dirt and rocks throughout the world. It was also used as insulation many years ago. Its use has dramatically decreased in recent years after research showed its effect on creating cancer cells, however, it’s still present in a few products and in older buildings that haven’t had them removed.
You can inhale asbestos, especially during the demolishing or renovating of an older building as they turn into tiny dust particles that if you breathe them in, may cause cancer. You may also swallow them by drinking contaminated water or swallowing your own saliva after coughing up inhaled asbestos.

9. Arsenic

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Arsenic is found in nature in the air, dirt, rocks, and water. We naturally breathe it in when out in nature and even when we drink water. The highest risk of arsenic exposure occurs in people that work in industrial buildings or even that live nearby them. You can also find arsenic in pressure treated wood created prior to 2003 or by breathing in burning wood containing arsenic.

10. BHA

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BHA is known as a human carcinogen that may cause cancer cells. BHA is an endocrine disruptor. You’ll find BHA in a variety of everyday use products, such as fragrances, skincare products, and makeup. While the FDA considers BHA generally safe, studies have shown its ill effects.


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The key to a healthy life is to educate and protect yourself. Know the ingredients you should keep away from your body by avoiding them in skincare products or even the air you breathe. Empower yourself and know where to limit your exposure. If you ever have a concern or question, the experts at the Cancer Centers of America can help you understand your risk and exposure, and what you can do to limit the risk of growing cancer cells from exposure.