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Get the impression everything can give you cancer? Here's the full list of 116 cancer-causing substances and activities

By Valerie Edwards

Published 28/10/2015

Smoking tops the IARC list at number one. More than four in five lung cancer deaths, are caused by tobacco smoking
Smoking tops the IARC list at number one. More than four in five lung cancer deaths, are caused by tobacco smoking

In case you were wondering what else causes cancer aside from bacon, ham and sausage, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has listed the 116 substances and activities that are considered to cause the disease.

The IARC is an organisation that collects and publishes cancer figures worldwide. This list is grouped into three categories: exposure circumstances, mixtures and agents.

Group one consists of the things that IARC says are definitely carcinogenic and mostly includes occupational carcinogen exposure.

Carcinogenic exposure circumstances (Group One)

1. Tobacco smoking: Smoking can cause at least 14 types of cancer including mouth and upper throat, larynx, lung, bowel, bladder and kidney cancer.

2. Sunlamps and sunbeds: Many tanning beds give out greater doses of UV rays than the midday tropical sun increasing your risk of developing skin cancer and premature skin ageing. People who are frequently exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 are at greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

3. Aluminium production: Workers exposed to fumes in aluminum production plants increase their risks of developing lung cancer and in some cases bladder cancer.

4. Arsenic in drinking water: The toxic chemical can get into drinking water, particularly ground water. Arsenic is known to cause skin, liver, lung, kidney and urinary bladder cancer.

5. Auramine production: Men who manufacture auramine increase their risk of bladder tumours through inhaling chemicals such as formaldehyde, ammonium chloride and sulphur.

6. Boot and shoe manufacture and repair: A high risk to nasal cancer was found for people who worked in the dustiest operations, and for those classified into the category of 'heavy' exposure to leather dust. Exposure for nasal cancer also depends on the duration and level of exposure.

7. Chimney sweeping: Sweeps are exposed to a number of dangerous substances and chemicals during their work, including carbon; carcinogenic metals like arsenic, nickel, and chromium; toxic minerals such as asbestos, found in old fireplace mortar and firebricks; and products of fossil fuel combustion, which increase their risks of cancer scroti and mesothelioma.

8. Coal gasification: People employed in the coal gasification industry may face an increased risk of developing lung cancer due to exposure to carcinogens such as coal tar and coal-tar fumes. The risk may vary depending on the duration and level of exposure as well as the nature of the exposure.

9. Coal tar distillation: Distillers face an increased risk for skin cancer. Derived from coal, coal-tar pitch is a thick black liquid that remains after the distillation of coal tar. Coal tar is used as a base for coatings and paint, in roofing and paving.

10. Coke (fuel) production: Workers at coking plants may be exposed to asbestos, silica, amines, arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel and risk developing lung and kidney cancer.

11. Furniture and cabinet making: Research suggests that working in furniture or cabinet making can increase your risk of developing cancers in the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses because of the exposure to wood dust and other chemicals.

12. Haematite mining (underground) with exposure to radon: People employed in the hematite and uranium mining industry may face an increased risk of developing cancer due to exposure to suspected carcinogens such as radon and silica, which can cause a large increase in the risk of lung cancer.

13. Secondhand smoke: The combination of “sidestream” smoke - the smoke given off by a burning tobacco product. More than 7,000 chemicals have been identified in secondhand tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful and at least 69 of the toxic chemicals in secondhand tobacco smoke cause cancer. It may cause breast cancer, nasal sinus cavity cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer in adults and the risk of leukemia, lymphoma and brain tumors in children.

14. Iron and steel founding: Studies show that workers in various parts of the world have a significantly increased risk for lung cancer because of the substantial exposures to silica and carbon monoxide in many foundries.

15. Isopropanol manufacture (strong-acid process): According to research by the IARC, people in this industry may face an increased risk of developing cancer of the paranasal sinuses and the risk for laryngeal cancer may also occur.

16. Magenta dye manufacturing: Working in production of auramine or magenta dyes, and exposure to 4-Aminobiphenyl, benzidine, 2-Naphthylamine or ortho-Toluidine (chemicals used in dye production), are classified by IARC as causes of bladder cancer.

17. Occupational exposure as a painter: Some exposures in paint-related occupations, most notably wood varnishes and stains, increase the risk of lung cancer.

18. Paving and roofing with coal-tar pitch: Paving with coal-tar pitch may contain many chemical compounds, including carcinogens such as benzene causing skin cancer and other types of cancer, including lung, bladder, kidney and digestive tract cancer.

19. Rubber industry: Studies show that excess risks of bladder cancer, lung cancer, and leukaemia were found in most workers. A moderate excess risk for laryngeal cancer was also found along with excess risks for cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, skin, prostate, kidney, brain, and thyroid and for malignant lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

20. Occupational exposure of strong inorganic acid mists containing sulphuric acid: The IARC concluded that there is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity to humans of occupational exposure to strong-inorganic-acid mists containing sulfuric acid, which can cause lung, larynx and bladder cancer.

Carcinogenic mixtures (Group Two)

21. Naturally occurring mixtures of aflatoxins

22. Alcoholic beverages

23. Areca nut

24. Betel quid without tobacco

25. Betel quid with tobacco

26. Coal-tar pitches

27. Coal tars

28. Indoor emissions from household combustion of coal

29. Diesel exhaust

30. Mineral oils, untreated and mildly treated

31. Phenacetin, analgesic mixtures containing

32. Plants containing aristolochic acid

33. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

34. Chinese-style salted fish

35. Shale oils

36. Soots

37. Smokeless tobacco products

38. Wood dust

39. Processed meat

Carcinogenic agents and groups of agents ( Group Three)

40. Acetaldehyde

41. 4-Aminobiphenyl

42. Aristolochic acids and plants containing them

43. Arsenic and arsenic compounds

44. Asbestos

45. Azathioprine

46. Benzene

47. Benzidine

48. Benzo[a]pyrene

49. Beryllium and beryllium compounds

50. Chlornapazine (N,N-Bis(2-chloroethyl)-2-naphthylamine)

51. Bis(chloromethyl)ether

52. Chloromethyl methyl ether

53. 1,3-Butadiene

54. 1,4-Butanediol dimethanesulfonate (Busulphan, Myleran)

55. Cadmium and cadmium compounds

56. Chlorambucil

57. Methyl-CCNU (1-(2-Chloroethyl)-3-(4-methylcyclohexyl)-1-nitrosourea; Semustine)

58. Chromium(VI) compounds

59. Ciclosporin

60. Contraceptives, hormonal, combined forms (those containing both oestrogen and a progestogen)

61. Contraceptives, oral, sequential forms of hormonal contraception (a period of oestrogen-only followed by a period of both oestrogen and a progestogen)

62. Cyclophosphamide

63. Diethylstilboestrol

64. Dyes metabolized to benzidine

65. Epstein-Barr virus

66. Oestrogens, nonsteroidal

67. Oestrogens, steroidal

68. Oestrogen therapy, postmenopausal

69. Ethanol in alcoholic beverages

70. Erionite

71. Ethylene oxide

72. Etoposide alone and in combination with cisplatin and bleomycin

73. Formaldehyde

74. Gallium arsenide

75. Helicobacter pylori (infection with)

76. Hepatitis B virus (chronic infection with)

77. Hepatitis C virus (chronic infection with)

78. Herbal remedies containing plant species of the genus Aristolochia

79. Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (infection with)

80. Human papillomavirus type 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59 and 66

81. Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type-I

82. Melphalan

83. Methoxsalen (8-Methoxypsoralen) plus ultraviolet A-radiation

84. 4,4’-methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline) (MOCA)

85. MOPP and other combined chemotherapy including alkylating agents

86. Mustard gas (sulphur mustard)

87. 2-Naphthylamine

88. Neutron radiation

89. Nickel compounds

90. 4-(N-Nitrosomethylamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK)

91. N-Nitrosonornicotine (NNN)

92. Opisthorchis viverrini (infection with)

93. Outdoor air pollution

94. Particulate matter in outdoor air pollution

95. Phosphorus-32, as phosphate

96. Plutonium-239 and its decay products (may contain plutonium-240 and other isotopes), as aerosols

97. Radioiodines, short-lived isotopes, including iodine-131, from atomic reactor accidents and nuclear weapons detonation (exposure during childhood)

98. Radionuclides, α-particle-emitting, internally deposited

99. Radionuclides, β-particle-emitting, internally deposited

100. Radium-224 and its decay products

101. Radium-226 and its decay products

102. Radium-228 and its decay products

103. Radon-222 and its decay products

104. Schistosoma haematobium (infection with)

105. Silica, crystalline (inhaled in the form of quartz or cristobalite from occupational sources)

106. Solar radiation

107. Talc containing asbestiform fibres

108. Tamoxifen

109. 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin

110. Thiotepa (1,1’,1”-phosphinothioylidynetrisaziridine)

111. Thorium-232 and its decay products, administered intravenously as a colloidal dispersion of thorium-232 dioxide

112. Treosulfan

113. Ortho-toluidine

114. Vinyl chloride

115. Ultraviolet radiation

116. X-radiation and gamma radiation

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