The 116 things that definitely cause cancer (and why there’s only a few you need to worry about) 85



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As we’re all reeling from the World Health Organisation’s shock decision to add our beloved sausages to the list of things that will give you cancer, many of us are left with the feeling that everything causes cancer, so maybe we just shouldn’t bother trying to avoid it.

But the idea of releasing this information is not to simply scare the pants off us all; rather, it’s intended to help us make lifestyle choices that will mitigate our risk.

The IARC, the research arm of the WHO that focused on cancer and its causes, has released a list of 116 things that have been proved to cause the dreaded disease.

Some should be pretty easy to avoid, such as chimney sweeping and sunbeds, but others, such as number 39, processed meats, are things we encounter in daily life.

The following list is considered by the IARC to definitely cause cancer, red meat doesn’t make the list because is only “probably” linked to cancer.

1. Tobacco smoking
2. Sunlamps and sunbeds
3. Aluminium production
4. Arsenic in drinking water
5. Auramine production
6. Boot and shoe manufacture and repair
7. Chimney sweeping
8. Coal gasification
9. Coal tar distillation
10. Coke (fuel) production
11. Furniture and cabinet making
12. Haematite mining (underground) with exposure to radon
13. Secondhand smoke
14. Iron and steel founding
15. Isopropanol manufacture (strong-acid process)
16. Magenta dye manufacturing
17. Occupational exposure as a painter
18. Paving and roofing with coal-tar pitch
19. Rubber industry
20. Occupational exposure of strong inorganic acid mists containing sulphuric acid
21. Naturally occurring mixtures of aflatoxins (produced by funghi)
22. Alcoholic beverages
23. Areca nut – often chewed with betel leaf
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, a pain and fever reducing drug
32. Plants containing aristolochic acid (used in Chinese herbal medicine)
33. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – widely used in electrical equipment in the past, banned in many countries in the 1970s
34. Chinese-style salted fish
35. Shale oils
36. Soots
37. Smokeless tobacco products
38. Wood dust
39. Processed meat
40. Acetaldehyde
41. 4-Aminobiphenyl
42. Aristolochic acids and plants containing them
43. Asbestos
44. Arsenic and arsenic compounds
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

What on this list is of most concern to you? 

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I have eaten much processed meat over the years, so maybe I’m at risk of cancer. Maybe I should reconsider supporting charity fundraising sausage sizzles.

  2. As I reach into my cigarette packet to light up yet again; whilst sipping my wine; and nibbling on my crackers, adorned with a smear of pate and Camembert; whilst staring ardently at my computer screen and contemplating sex again maybe this week……I’m at a loss for words! In retrospect, I should never have accepted that first cigarette or sipped on that glass of rum and coke; sex would cause me all sorts of health problems – the least of which was having a child; and sampling the delights of a juicy steak, a well cooked sausage with sauce on a piece of buttered bread – a definite ‘no no’!! Whatever additional items are added to the ever growing list of ‘Things I’m doing to Harm Myself’ will fall on what will likely be ‘deaf ears’, ‘failing eyesight’ and I now ‘couldn’t give a shit’ (if I could remember having done it) memory. Long live the BBQ sausage!!

  3. And the age old proviso, no reason for alarm ‘if eaten in moderation’. In other words use common sense.
    The attached list is probably endless.

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