Understanding Environmental Cancer Risk Factors

Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1,685,210 new cancer diagnoses are expected in 2016. Additionally, about 595,690 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2016.

With numbers such as these, it is understandable to have concerns over one’s health and future. Being aware of the risk factors associated with cancers can help you take the necessary steps to safeguard your health and to help protect your future. However, it is important to note that not all risk factors are under your control.

Generally, there are three categories of cancer risk factors: Environment, Genetics, and Lifestyle. In this three-part blog series, we will be discussing each of these categories, starting with today’s article on environmental risk factors.

Environmental Risk Factors

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI):

“Cancer is caused by changes to certain genes that alter the way our cells function. Some of these genetic changes occur naturally when DNA is replicated during the process of cell division. But others are the result of environmental exposures that damage DNA.”

One’s environment is the surroundings or conditions in which a person lives or operates. This environment is not so easily controlled. In order to change your environment, you would have to leave it, and picking up your entire life to reestablish it somewhere else isn’t a simple action. As such, environmental risk factors are generally not within your control, especially if you are not aware that you are being exposed to cancer-causing substances.

When carcinogens are in the air, water, food, or at the workplace, they are more difficult to avoid. In the United States, regulations have been put in place to reduce carcinogen exposure in the workplace, and continuing research is conducted analyzing the presence of carcinogens near schools and neighborhoods. Below is a list of known carcinogenic substances. For more detailed information about each one, visit


Aristolochic Acids








Coal Tar and Coal-Tar Pitch

Coke-Oven Emissions

Crystalline Silica (respirable size)


Ethylene Oxide


Hexavalent Chromium Compounds

Indoor Emissions from the Household Combustion of Coal

Mineral Oils: Untreated and Mildly Treated

Nickel Compounds


Secondhand Tobacco Smoke (Environmental Tobacco Smoke)


Strong Inorganic Acid Mists Containing Sulfuric Acid


Vinyl Chloride

Wood Dust

Carcinogen Exposure Does Not Mean Definite Cancer

It is important to understand that many other factors influence whether a person exposed to a carcinogen will actually develop cancer, including the duration and amount of the exposure as well as the person’s genetic background.

To learn more about how genetics play a role as a cancer risk factor, visit our blog next week!

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