According to Medicinenet.com, the word carcinogen means a substance or agent that causes cancer. Some common carcinogens are asbestos, tobacco, radiation, etc. This article will discuss how carcinogens are determined.
It’s interesting that the American Cancer Society states on its website that it does not determine if something causes cancer. However, they look to other organizations to assist in this regard. For something to be labelled a carcinogen, it must have been studied extensively by a group of researchers or agencies. These researchers or agencies assess the evidence and determine if it indeed causes cancer.
Deciding something is a carcinogen
Cancer is the result of changes that happen in a cell’s DNA. Such changes may have been inherited from parents or be the result of external factors or exposure. External factors or exposure are referred to as environmental factors and these may include some of the following:
- Factors to do with one’s lifestyle – nutrition, intake of alcohol or tobacco, physical inactivity, etc.
- Exposure that occurs naturally – exposure to UV light, infectious agents, etc.
- Medical treatments – this can include medicines or radiation e.g., hormone drugs, drugs designed to suppress the immune system, chemotherapy
- Exposure in the workplace
- At home exposure
One key thing researchers do to decide if something is or is not a carcinogen is to test it. Generally, it is difficult to test something to see if it can cause cancer. In addition, it is unethical to test a substance by exposing it to people and then seeing whether they get cancer from it or not. Rather, scientists use other ways to test substances or agents. This could be by lab testing on cells and animals. However, such tests do not always give clear answers as to whether something is a carcinogen or not.
It must be noted that substance tests are not done randomly. Rather, they use what is already known about a specific substance, such as:
- chemical structure,
- extent of human exposure, etc.
And then conduct a test accordingly.