A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes. Several radioactive substances are considered carcinogens, but their carcinogenic activity is attributed to the radiation, for example gamma rays and alpha particles, which they emit. Common examples of non-radioactive carcinogens are inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke. Although the public generally associates carcinogenicity with synthetic chemicals, it is equally likely to arise in both natural and synthetic substances.Carcinogens are not necessarily immediately toxic; thus, their effect can be insidious.
Cancer is any disease in which normal cells are damaged and do not undergo programmed cell death as fast as they divide via mitosis. Carcinogens may increase the risk of cancer by altering cellular metabolism or damaging DNA directly in cells, which interferes with biological processes, and induces the uncontrolled, malignant division, ultimately leading to the formation of tumors. Usually, severe DNA damage leads to programmed cell death, but if the programmed cell death pathway is damaged, then the cell cannot prevent itself from becoming a cancer cell.
There are many natural carcinogens. Aflatoxin B1, which is produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus growing on stored grains, nuts and peanut butter, is an example of a potent, naturally occurring microbial carcinogen. Certain viruses such as hepatitis B and human papilloma virus have been found to cause cancer in humans. The first one shown to cause cancer in animals is Rous sarcoma virus, discovered in 1910 by Peyton Rous. Other infectious organisms which cause cancer in humans include some bacteria (e.g. Helicobacter pylori) and helminths (e.g. Opisthorchis viverrini and Clonorchis sinensis ).
Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, benzene, kepone, EDB, and asbestos have all been classified as carcinogenic.As far back as the 1930s, Industrial smoke and tobacco smoke were identified as sources of dozens of carcinogens, including benzo[a]pyrene, tobacco-specific nitrosamines such as nitrosonornicotine, and reactive aldehydes such as formaldehyde, which is also a hazard in embalming and making plastics. Vinyl chloride, from which PVC is manufactured, is a carcinogen and thus a hazard in PVC production.
Co-carcinogens are chemicals that do not necessarily cause cancer on their own, but promote the activity of other carcinogens in causing cancer.
After the carcinogen enters the body, the body makes an attempt to eliminate it through a process called biotransformation. The purpose of these reactions is to make the carcinogen more water-soluble so that it can be removed from the body. However, in some cases, these reactions can also convert a less toxic carcinogen into a more toxic carcinogen.
DNA is nucleophilic; therefore, soluble carbon electrophiles are carcinogenic, because DNA attacks them. For example, some alkenes are toxicated by human enzymes to produce an electrophilic epoxide. DNA attacks the epoxide, and is bound permanently to it. This is the mechanism behind the carcinogenicity of benzo[a]pyrene in tobacco smoke, other aromatics, aflatoxin and mustard gas.
CERCLA identifies all radionuclides as carcinogens, although the nature of the emitted radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, or neutron and the radioactive strength), its consequent capacity to cause ionization in tissues, and the magnitude of radiation exposure, determine the potential hazard. Carcinogenicity of radiation depends on the type of radiation, type of exposure, and penetration. For example, alpha radiation has low penetration and is not a hazard outside the body, but emitters are carcinogenic when inhaled or ingested. For example, Thorotrast, a (incidentally radioactive) suspension previously used as a contrast medium in x-ray diagnostics, is a potent human carcinogen known because of its retention within various organs and persistent emission of alpha particles. Low-level ionizing radiation may induce irreparable DNA damage (leading to replicational and transcriptional errors needed for neoplasia or may trigger viral interactions) leading to pre-mature aging and cancer.
Not all types of electromagnetic radiation are carcinogenic. Low-energy waves on the electromagnetic spectrum including radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation and visible light are thought not to be, because they have insufficient energy to break chemical bonds. Evidence for carcinogenic effects of non-ionizing radiation is generally inconclusive, though there are some documented cases of radar technicians with prolonged high exposure experiencing significantly higher cancer incidence.
Higher-energy radiation, including ultraviolet radiation (present in sunlight), x-rays, and gamma radiation, generally is carcinogenic, if received in sufficient doses. For most people, ultraviolet radiations from sunlight is the most common cause of skin cancer. In Australia, where people with pale skin are often exposed to strong sunlight, melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in people aged 15–44 years.
Substances or foods irradiated with electrons or electromagnetic radiation (such as microwave, X-ray or gamma) are not carcinogenic.[ citation needed ] In contrast, non-electromagnetic neutron radiation produced inside nuclear reactors can produce secondary radiation through nuclear transmutation.
Chemicals used in processed and cured meat such as some brands of bacon, sausages and ham may produce carcinogens.For example, nitrites used as food preservatives in cured meat such as bacon have also been noted as being carcinogenic with demographic links, but not causation, to colon cancer. Cooking food at high temperatures, for example grilling or barbecuing meats, may also lead to the formation of minute quantities of many potent carcinogens that are comparable to those found in cigarette smoke (i.e., benzo[a]pyrene). Charring of food looks like coking and tobacco pyrolysis, and produces carcinogens. There are several carcinogenic pyrolysis products, such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which are converted by human enzymes into epoxides, which attach permanently to DNA. Pre-cooking meats in a microwave oven for 2–3 minutes before grilling shortens the time on the hot pan, and removes heterocyclic amine (HCA) precursors, which can help minimize the formation of these carcinogens.
Reports from the Food Standards Agency have found that the known animal carcinogen acrylamide is generated in fried or overheated carbohydrate foods (such as french fries and potato chips).Studies are underway at the FDA and Europe regulatory agencies to assess its potential risk to humans.
There is a strong association of smoking with lung cancer; the lifetime risk of developing lung cancer increases significantly in smokers.A large number of known carcinogens are found in cigarette smoke. Potent carcinogens found in cigarette smoke include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH, such as benzo[a]pyrene), Benzene, and Nitrosamine.
Carcinogens can be classified as genotoxic or nongenotoxic. Genotoxins cause irreversible genetic damage or mutations by binding to DNA. Genotoxins include chemical agents like N-nitroso-N-methylurea (NMU) or non-chemical agents such as ultraviolet light and ionizing radiation. Certain viruses can also act as carcinogens by interacting with DNA.
Nongenotoxins do not directly affect DNA but act in other ways to promote growth. These include hormones and some organic compounds.
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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is an intergovernmental agency established in 1965, which forms part of the World Health Organization of the United Nations. It is based in Lyon, France. Since 1971 it has published a series of Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humansthat have been highly influential in the classification of possible carcinogens.
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a United Nations initiative to attempt to harmonize the different systems of assessing chemical risk which currently exist (as of March 2009) around the world. It classifies carcinogens into two categories, of which the first may be divided again into subcategories if so desired by the competent regulatory authority:
The National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is mandated to produce a biennial Report on Carcinogens.As of June 2011, the latest edition was the 12th report (2011). It classifies carcinogens into two groups:
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) is a private organization best known for its publication of threshold limit values (TLVs) for occupational exposure and monographs on workplace chemical hazards. It assesses carcinogenicity as part of a wider assessment of the occupational hazards of chemicals.
The European Union classification of carcinogens is contained in the Dangerous Substances Directive and the Dangerous Preparations Directive. It consists of three categories:
This assessment scheme is being phased out in favor of the GHS scheme (see above), to which it is very close in category definitions.
Under a previous name, the NOHSC, in 1999 Safe Work Australia published the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances [NOHSC:1008(1999)].Section 4.76 of this document outlines the criteria for classifying carcinogens as approved by the Australian government. This classification consists of three categories:
Occupational carcinogens are agents that pose a risk of cancer in several specific work-locations:
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|Arsenic and its compounds|
Not in widespread use, but found in:
|Beryllium and its compounds|
|Cadmium and its compounds|
|Hexavalent chromium(VI) compounds|
|Radon and its decay products|
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|Involuntary smoking (Passive smoking)|
| Radium-226, Radium-224,|
and other alpha particle
emitters with high atomic weight
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In this section, the carcinogens implicated as the main causative agents of the four most common cancers worldwide are briefly described. These four cancers are lung, breast, colon, and stomach cancers. Together they account for about 41% of worldwide cancer incidence and 42% of cancer deaths (for more detailed information on the carcinogens implicated in these and other cancers, see references).
Lung cancer (pulmonary carcinoma) is the most common cancer in the world, both in terms of cases (1.6 million cases; 12.7% of total cancer cases) and deaths (1.4 million deaths; 18.2% of total cancer deaths). [ citation needed ] DNA damages are subject to error-prone DNA repair or can cause replication errors. Such errors in repair or replication can result in mutations in tumor suppressor genes or oncogenes leading to cancer.Lung cancer is largely caused by tobacco smoke. Risk estimates for lung cancer in the United States indicate that tobacco smoke is responsible for 90% of lung cancers. Other factors are implicated in lung cancer, and these factors can interact synergistically with smoking so that total attributable risk adds up to more than 100%. These factors include occupational exposure to carcinogens (about 9-15%), radon (10%) and outdoor air pollution (1-2%). Tobacco smoke is a complex mixture of more than 5,300 identified chemicals. The most important carcinogens in tobacco smoke have been determined by a “Margin of Exposure” approach. Using this approach, the most important tumorigenic compounds in tobacco smoke were, in order of importance, acrolein, formaldehyde, acrylonitrile, 1,3-butadiene, cadmium, acetaldehyde, ethylene oxide, and isoprene. Most of these compounds cause DNA damage by forming DNA adducts or by inducing other alterations in DNA.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer [(1.4 million cases, 10.9%), but ranks 5th as cause of death (458,000, 6.1%)].Increased risk of breast cancer is associated with persistently elevated blood levels of estrogen. Estrogen appears to contribute to breast carcinogenesis by three processes; (1) the metabolism of estrogen to genotoxic, mutagenic carcinogens, (2) the stimulation of tissue growth, and (3) the repression of phase II detoxification enzymes that metabolize ROS leading to increased oxidative DNA damage. The major estrogen in humans, estradiol, can be metabolized to quinone derivatives that form adducts with DNA. These derivatives can cause dupurination, the removal of bases from the phosphodiester backbone of DNA, followed by inaccurate repair or replication of the apurinic site leading to mutation and eventually cancer. This genotoxic mechanism may interact in synergy with estrogen receptor-mediated, persistent cell proliferation to ultimately cause breast cancer. Genetic background, dietary practices and environmental factors also likely contribute to the incidence of DNA damage and breast cancer risk.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer [1.2 million cases (9.4%), 608,000 deaths (8.0%)].Tobacco smoke may be responsible for up to 20% of colorectal cancers in the United States. In addition, substantial evidence implicates bile acids as an important factor in colon cancer. Twelve studies (summarized in Bernstein et al. ) indicate that the bile acids deoxycholic acid (DCA) or lithocholic acid (LCA) induce production of DNA-damaging reactive oxygen species or reactive nitrogen species in human or animal colon cells. Furthermore, 14 studies showed that DCA and LCA induce DNA damage in colon cells. Also 27 studies reported that bile acids cause programmed cell death (apoptosis). Increased apoptosis can result in selective survival of cells that are resistant to induction of apoptosis. Colon cells with reduced ability to undergo apoptosis in response to DNA damage would tend to accumulate mutations, and such cells may give rise to colon cancer. Epidemiologic studies have found that fecal bile acid concentrations are increased in populations with a high incidence of colon cancer. Dietary increases in total fat or saturated fat result in elevated DCA and LCA in feces and elevated exposure of the colon epithelium to these bile acids. When the bile acid DCA was added to the standard diet of wild-type mice invasive colon cancer was induced in 56% of the mice after 8 to 10 months. Overall, the available evidence indicates that DCA and LCA are centrally important DNA-damaging carcinogens in colon cancer.
Stomach cancer is the fourth most common cancer [990,000 cases (7.8%), 738,000 deaths (9.7%)].Helicobacter pylori infection is the main causative factor in stomach cancer. Chronic gastritis (inflammation) caused by H. pylori is often long-standing if not treated. Infection of gastric epithelial cells with H. pylori results in increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS cause oxidative DNA damage including the major base alteration 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OHdG). 8-OHdG resulting from ROS is increased in chronic gastritis. The altered DNA base can cause errors during DNA replication that have mutagenic and carcinogenic potential. Thus H. pylori-induced ROS appear to be the major carcinogens in stomach cancer because they cause oxidative DNA damage leading to carcinogenic mutations. Diet is thought to be a contributing factor in stomach cancer - in Japan where very salty pickled foods are popular, the incidence of stomach cancer is high. Preserved meat such as bacon, sausages, and ham increases the risk while a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk. The risk also increases with age.
In genetics, a mutagen is a physical or chemical agent that changes the genetic material, usually DNA, of an organism and thus increases the frequency of mutations above the natural background level. As many mutations can cause cancer, mutagens are therefore also likely to be carcinogens, although not always necessarily so. All mutagens have characteristic mutational signatures with some chemicals becoming mutagenic through cellular processes. Not all mutations are caused by mutagens: so-called "spontaneous mutations" occur due to spontaneous hydrolysis, errors in DNA replication, repair and recombination.
Toxicity is the degree to which a chemical substance or a particular mixture of substances can damage an organism. Toxicity can refer to the effect on a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium, or plant, as well as the effect on a substructure of the organism, such as a cell (cytotoxicity) or an organ such as the liver (hepatotoxicity). By extension, the word may be metaphorically used to describe toxic effects on larger and more complex groups, such as the family unit or society at large. Sometimes the word is more or less synonymous with poisoning in everyday usage.
In genetics, genotoxicity describes the property of chemical agents that damages the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer. While genotoxicity is often confused with mutagenicity, all mutagens are genotoxic, whereas not all genotoxic substances are mutagenic. The alteration can have direct or indirect effects on the DNA: the induction of mutations, mistimed event activation, and direct DNA damage leading to mutations. The permanent, heritable changes can affect either somatic cells of the organism or germ cells to be passed on to future generations. Cells prevent expression of the genotoxic mutation by either DNA repair or apoptosis; however, the damage may not always be fixed leading to mutagenesis.
Benzo[a]pyrene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and the result of incomplete combustion of organic matter at temperatures between 300 °C (572 °F) and 600 °C (1,112 °F). The ubiquitous compound can be found in coal tar, tobacco smoke and many foods, especially grilled meats. The substance with the formula C20H12 is one of the benzopyrenes, formed by a benzene ring fused to pyrene. Its diol epoxide metabolites (more commonly known as BPDE) react and bind to DNA, resulting in mutations and eventually cancer. It is listed as a Group 1 carcinogen by the IARC. In the 18th century a scrotal cancer of chimney sweepers, the chimney sweeps' carcinoma, was already known to be connected to soot.
Methylcholanthrene is a highly carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon produced by burning organic compounds at very high temperatures. Methylcholanthrene is also known as 3-methylcholanthrene, 20-methylcholanthrene or the IUPAC name 3-methyl-1,2-dyhydrobenzo[j]aceanthrylene. The short notation often used is 3-MC or MCA. This compound forms pale yellow solid crystals when crystallized from benzene and ether. It has a melting point around 180 °C and its boiling point is around 280 °C at a pressure of 80 mmHg. Methylcholanthrene is used in laboratory studies of chemical carcinogenesis. It is an alkylated derivative of benz[a]anthracene and has a similar UV spectrum. The most common isomer is 3-methylcholanthrene, although the methyl group can occur in other places.
Malignant transformation is the process by which cells acquire the properties of cancer. This may occur as a primary process in normal tissue, or secondarily as malignant degeneration of a previously existing benign tumor.
Tar is the common name for the resinous, partially combusted particulate matter made by the burning of tobacco and other plant material in the act of smoking. Tar is toxic and damages the smoker's lungs over time through various biochemical and mechanical processes. Tar also damages the mouth by rotting and blackening teeth, damaging gums, and desensitizing taste buds. Tar includes the majority of mutagenic and carcinogenic agents in tobacco smoke. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), for example, are genotoxic via epoxidation.
Carcinogenesis, also called oncogenesis or tumorigenesis, is the formation of a cancer, whereby normal cells are transformed into cancer cells. The process is characterized by changes at the cellular, genetic, and epigenetic levels and abnormal cell division. Cell division is a physiological process that occurs in almost all tissues and under a variety of circumstances. Normally the balance between proliferation and programmed cell death, in the form of apoptosis, is maintained to ensure the integrity of tissues and organs. According to the prevailing accepted theory of carcinogenesis, the somatic mutation theory, mutations in DNA and epimutations that lead to cancer disrupt these orderly processes by disrupting the programming regulating the processes, upsetting the normal balance between proliferation and cell death. This results in uncontrolled cell division and the evolution of those cells by natural selection in the body. Only certain mutations lead to cancer whereas the majority of mutations do not.
Tobacco use has predominantly negative effects on human health and concern about health effects of tobacco has a long history. Research has focused primarily on cigarette tobacco smoking.
Occupational lung diseases are occupational, or work-related, lung conditions that have been caused or made worse by the materials a person is exposed to within the workplace. It includes a broad group of diseases, including occupational asthma, industrial bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiolitis obliterans, inhalation injury, interstitial lung diseases, infections, lung cancer and mesothelioma. These diseases can be caused directly or due to immunological response to an exposure to a variety of dusts, chemicals, proteins or organisms.
4-Aminobiphenyl (4-APB) is an organic compound with the formula C6H5C6H4NH2. It is an amine derivative of biphenyl. It is a colorless solid, although aged samples can appear colored. 4-Aminobiphenyl was commonly used in the past as a rubber antioxidant and an intermediate for dyes. Exposure to this aryl-amine can happen through contact with chemical dyes and from inhalation of cigarette smoke. Researches showed that 4-aminobiphenyl is responsible for bladder cancer in humans and dogs by damaging DNA. Due to its carcinogenic effects, commercial production of 4-aminobiphenyl ceased in the United States in the 1950s.
Sidestream smoke is smoke which goes into the air directly from a burning cigarette, cigar, or smoking pipe. Sidestream smoke is the main component of second-hand smoke (SHS), also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) or passive smoking. The chemical constituents of sidestream smoke are different from those of directly inhaled ("mainstream") smoke. Sidestream smoke has been classified as a Class A carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In molecular genetics, a DNA adduct is a segment of DNA bound to a cancer-causing chemical. This process could be the start of a cancerous cell, or carcinogenesis. DNA adducts in scientific experiments are used as biomarkers of exposure and as such are themselves measured to reflect quantitatively, for comparison, the amount of carcinogen exposure to the subject organism, for example rats or other living animals. Under experimental conditions for study, such DNA adducts are induced by known carcinogens, of which commonly used is DMBA. For example, the term "DMBA-DNA adduct" in a scientific journal refers to a piece of DNA that has DMBA attached to it. The presence of such an adduct indicates prior exposure to a potential carcinogen, but does not by itself indicate the presence of cancer in the subject animal.
A co-carcinogen is a chemical that promotes the effects of a carcinogen in the production of cancer. Usually, the term is used to refer to chemicals that are not carcinogenic on their own, such that an equivalent amount of the chemical is insufficient to initiate carcinogenesis. A chemical can be co-carcinogenic with other chemicals or with nonchemical carcinogens, such as UV radiation.
Estimates place the worldwide risk of cancers from infectious causes at 16.1%. Viral infections are risk factors for cervical cancer, 80% of liver cancers, and 15–20% of the other cancers. This proportion varies in different regions of the world from a high of 32.7% in Sub-Saharan Africa to 3.3% in Australia and New Zealand. Helicobacter pylori is associated with stomach cancer, and Mycobacterium, some other bacteria and parasites also have an effect.
The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like ionizing radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc. Additionally, the vast majority of non-invasive cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers caused by ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet's position on the electromagnetic spectrum is on the boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from mobile phones, electric power transmission, and other similar sources have been described as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the link remains unproven.
Cancer is a disease caused by genetic changes leading to uncontrolled cell growth and tumor formation. The basic cause of sporadic (non-familial) cancers is DNA damage and genomic instability. A minority of cancers are due to inherited genetic mutations. Most cancers are related to environmental, lifestyle, or behavioral exposures. Cancer is generally not contagious in humans, though it can be caused by oncoviruses and cancer bacteria. The term "environmental", as used by cancer researchers, refers to everything outside the body that interacts with humans. The environment is not limited to the biophysical environment, but also includes lifestyle and behavioral factors.
Toxicodynamics, termed pharmacodynamics in pharmacology, describes the dynamic interactions of a toxicant with a biological target and its biological effects. A biological target, also known as the site of action, can be binding proteins, ion channels, DNA, or a variety of other receptors. When a toxicant enters an organism, it can interact with these receptors and produce structural or functional alterations. The mechanism of action of the toxicant, as determined by a toxicant’s chemical properties, will determine what receptors are targeted and the overall toxic effect at the cellular level and organismal level.
Curtis. C. Harris is the head of the Molecular Genetics and Carcinogenesis Section and chief of the Laboratory of Human Carcinogenesis at the Center for Cancer Research of the National Cancer Institute, NIH.
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