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What is carcinogenic or a carcinogen?

What is carcinogenic?

Carcinogenic! Carcinogens are substances or materials that can cause or promote cancer. Another name is “poisonous” or “toxic”. Each day, we are exposed to several carcinogens that have a poisonous impact on our health.

This poisonous impact becomes a problem if we are exposed to many carcinogenic substances at the same time, the dose of carcinogens is high and our immune system is weakened or simply cannot keep up. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) publishes the latest status report of the scientific study situation at regular intervals and divides the carcinogenic substances into different categories. For example, “Group 1” stands for substances that have been shown to be highly carcinogenic, such as asbestos. With some carcinogens, the dose makes the poison, which means that small amounts are not yet carcinogenic, but with others, even the smallest amounts have been shown to be toxic.

What are carcinogenic substances?


Well-known carcinogenic substances are, for example, aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are toxic carcinogens and mutagens produced by mold and one of the most carcinogenic substances known. They belong to the major group of mycotoxins. Above all, diseases such as kidney and liver cancer as detoxification organs, but also respiratory diseases such as asthma are related to them. Aflatoxins, the strongest mycotoxin, occur primarily in improperly stored foods (e.g. grain, peanuts), in milk or as mold in homes.

Because they are often odorless and tasteless and often only visible at a late stage (e.g. moldy bread, mold on apartment walls) and are also thermally stable, aflatoxins are particularly treacherous. Thermostable means that they cannot be rendered harmless by heating, frying, or boiling. By consuming it, we very quickly exceed the limit values. For the first time, aflatoxin was found in soil and rotting grain and hay. As a very strong and effective poison, aflatoxin was also used as a chemical weapon in wars.

Mold at home is also one of the carcinogenic substances of the mycotoxin mold toxins


It is similar to asbestos. There is no amount in which asbestos is not harmful. This means that even the smallest amounts of asbestos are extremely toxic to your health. Asbestos is the collective name for fibrous materials that are particularly fire-proof and acid-resistant and are therefore actually ideally suited as insulating material. Over time, however, the asbestos fibers loosen and get into our lungs via the air, where they are highly carcinogenic. Due to its health-damaging effects, which have been proven many times over, numerous countries have banned the use of asbestos entirely. The primary focus here is on disposal.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)

Other carcinogenic substances are hydrocarbons such as benzene (which can trigger leukemia, i.e. blood cancer), which is added to motor fuels and is therefore found in exhaust gases. Cigarette smoke also contains benzene (passive smoking). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are components of fossil fuels, i.e. coal and oil, and are found primarily in exhaust gases, but also in plastics, lacquers, paints, and also in cigarette smoke.

PAHs are also produced during the preparation of meat and sausage (trans fats), e.g. when grilling, roasting, etc. Plus, they are primarily associated with cancer affecting the lungs, larynx, colon, stomach, and skin. They are also one of the reasons why meat and meat products are now classified as food in “Group 1” as evidently carcinogenic.

Heavy metals and metalloids: cadmium, chromium, nickel, and arsenic

In addition, many heavy metals and metalloids belong to the carcinogenic substances. Some heavy metals are essential to life in traces, the so-called trace elements. In too high concentrations they can be carcinogenic and toxic. They include cadmium, chromium (in the hexavalent form), nickel, arsenic, and compounds of these elements.


Cadmium is primarily associated with lung cancer and occurs mainly in the form of smoke and dust. For example in cigarette smoke, but also in the manufacture of batteries, color pigments, or alloys.

Chrome and nickel

Chromium and nickel are also linked to lung cancer. We find both above all in the metal industry, e.g. with smoking that occurs during welding.


We find arsenic, among other things, in the manufacture of semiconductors. In the past, arsenic was used in pesticides and paints. We find high concentrations of arsenic in the air around thermal power stations. However, arsenic can also be found in nature. High concentrations of arsenic can be found in some water sources. Sewage sludge and phosphate fertilizers also contain a lot of arsenic and thus get into our groundwater, from which it is difficult to filter. Arsenic finds its way into our food and thus also into drinking water via our groundwater.

For example, as a plant that requires a lot of water, rice is often very rich in arsenic, which should be taken into account when consuming rice. Rice can contain up to 10 times more arsenic than other grains. Here you can exceed limit values ​​with your diet very quickly. You can reduce the arsenic load by thoroughly washing and swelling before cooking. It is also advised to pour off excess water from boiling to avoid arsenic released by boiling. In addition, the arsenic content depends heavily on the rice variety and the growing area. Like the other heavy metals and metalloids, lung cancer is the main problem, but skin cancer is also associated with excessive doses of arsenic.

Well-known signs: Carcinogenic for humans and carcinogenic for animals and the environment
Well-known signs: Carcinogenic for humans and carcinogenic for animals and the environment

Other carcinogens

There are also many other carcinogenic substances such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), certain herbicides (weed killers), pesticides (pest killers), etc. In addition to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, alcohol is found next to asbestos, exhaust gases from diesel engines, aluminum, and many more can be found in “Group 1” of substances that cause cancer in humans.

Substances that are classified in “Group 1” have been proven by numerous studies to be carcinogenic for the human organism. In “Group 2” we find substances that are most likely carcinogenic to humans and should therefore be avoided. For example, this also includes glyphosate (herbicide). You can find the complete list of the IARC *here* or in the sources listed below.

The dose makes the poison?

Even a Teflon pan can release toxic fumes at very high temperatures. The peeling coating made of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) releases toxic fumes that can lead to flu-like symptoms in the short-term, for example.

As we can see, we are exposed to toxic and carcinogenic substances every day. Be it through exhaust fumes, mold spores, cigarette smoke, or, for example, pesticides. You can defend yourself against some in the long term, but not against others. It is always important to ensure that you do not consciously expose yourself to an unnecessarily high concentration of carcinogenic substances. One possibility is generally to try to avoid environmental toxins (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.) and, for example, to buy organic goods or avoid plastic, etc.

In addition, you should of course throw away moldy bread, since – as already mentioned – the mold that is prevalent here is only visible to our eyes late and the entire bread may already be infected. Avoid fumes of any kind: starting with cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, incorrectly used oil (more on this *here*) to plasticizers in plastic. Every step counts!

Our greatest wealth
is health.

Our respiratory tract and detoxification organs in particular suffer from excessively high concentrations and at some point can no longer withstand the strain. On the one hand, we shouldn’t let ourselves be driven crazy, on the other hand, we should try to minimize unnecessary risk factors for the development of diseases. For the sake of our health!

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Stay healthy,
xxx Rosa 🙂

Sources for this blog post

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC): IARC Monographs on the Identification of Carcinogenic Hazards to Humans, List of Classifications, Agents classified by the IARC Monographs, Vol. 1-128.

American Cancer Society:


Chiang, T.A. et al. 1997: Mutagenicity and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon content of fumes from heated cooking oils produced in Taiwan, in: Mutation Research/Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis, Vol. 381, 1997, No. 2, pp. 157-161.

Kass, L., Gomez, A. L., & Altamirano, G. A. (2020). Relationship between agrochemical compounds and mammary gland development and breast cancer. Molecular and cellular endocrinology508, 110789.

Majumder, S., & Banik, P. (2019). Geographical variation of arsenic distribution in paddy soil, rice and rice-based products: A meta-analytic approach and implications to human health. Journal of environmental management233, 184–199.

Peillex, C., & Pelletier, M. (2020). The impact and toxicity of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides on health and immunity. Journal of immunotoxicology17(1), 163–174.

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