Cancer causes: These 10 hidden carcinogens can raise the risk, according to an oncology expert

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Many of cancer’s effects are visible — but the causes aren’t always so obvious.

There are hundreds of different types of cancer, and far more causes. 

“Cancer-causing agents, known as carcinogens, can be of various types and forms, working toward triggering mutations in the human body that lead to the development of cancer,” said Dr. John Oertle, chief medical director at Envita Medical Centers in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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While some causes, such as tobacco use and UV radiation, are widely known for their harmful effects, there are many other hidden carcinogens in the environment that are equally harmful, the doctor told Fox News Digital.

“These hidden carcinogens are ubiquitous but often avoidable if people are aware of their inherent dangers,” Oertle said.

“Environmental carcinogens often involve synthetic derivatives of industrial byproducts in addition to solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, radioisotopes and even carcinogenic microbes.”

The doctor shared a list of some of these hidden carcinogens, their sources and the types of cancer they cause.

“Even though we talk about potential carcinogens all the time, the ones mentioned in this list are the major players.”

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, described Oertle’s list as “important.”

“Even though we talk about potential carcinogens all the time, the ones mentioned in this list are the major players,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“Though we are very familiar with the carcinogenic risks of tobacco, and UV light to the skin, others, like radon, are too frequently underestimated.”

10 environmental carcinogens

1. Tobacco

This carcinogen comes from cigarettes, leading to about 20% of all cancers and approximately 30% of cancer-related deaths in the country, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

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Tobacco can cause cancer of the mouth, nose, throat, larynx, trachea, esophagus, lungs, stomach, pancreas, liver, kidneys, ureters, bladder, colon, rectum and cervix, as well as leukemia, noted Oertle.

2. Organochlorines

Organochlorines are pesticides that have been used in agriculture around the world since they were introduced in the 1940s, despite having high toxicity. 

While they’ve been largely banned in the U.S. due to health hazards, they are still used in other countries, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tobacco smoke

Organochlorines can potentially lead to breast, colorectal, pancreatic, prostate, lung, oral/nasopharyngeal, thyroid, adrenal and gallbladder cancer, as well as lymphoma, according to Oertle.

3. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals found in coal, crude oil and gasoline, according to the CDC. 

They are emitted into the environment with the burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage and tobacco.

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PAHs can come from cigarette smoke, vehicular exhaust, roofing tar, occupational settings and pharmaceuticals, Oertle said.

Breast, skin, lung, bladder and gastrointestinal cancers can stem from exposure to these chemicals.

4. Volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals emitted through the creation of paints, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants, among other products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

They are also found in industrial solvents, petroleum fuels and dry cleaning agents.

Gasoline

VOCs are commonly found in the air, groundwater, cigarette smoke, automobile emissions and gasoline, Oertle warned.

The compounds can cause lung, nasopharyngeal, lymphohematopoietic and sinonasal cancers, as well as leukemia.

5. UV radiation

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization (WHO) both classify ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and tanning beds as a human carcinogen.

UV rays can cause a variety of skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

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Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., affecting one in five Americans in their lifetimes and resulting in 9,500 diagnoses each day.

6. Radon

A radioactive gas, radon is a byproduct of uranium, thorium or radium breaking down in rocks, soil and groundwater, according to the EPA.

Pesticides

When radon seeps into buildings and homes, people can breathe it in — increasing their risk of leukemia, lymphoma, skin cancer, thyroid cancer, various sarcomas, lung cancer and breast cancer, Oertle said.

7. Asbestos

A mineral fiber in rock and soil, asbestos has historically been used in construction materials. 

Although some uses have been banned, it can still be found in insulation, roofing and siding shingles, vinyl floor tiles, heat-resistant fabrics and some other materials, per the EPA.

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Oertle warned that asbestos exposure can increase the risk of lung, mesothelioma, gastrointestinal, colorectal, throat, kidney, esophagus and gallbladder cancers.

8. Cadmium

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines cadmium as “a soft, malleable, bluish white metal found in zinc ores, and to a much lesser extent, in the cadmium mineral greenockite.”

Radon

Cadmium can be found in paints, batteries and plastics, Oertle said.

The metal can be a factor in lung, prostate, pancreatic and renal cancers.

9. Chromium

There are two types of this trace mineral, as noted on WebMD’s website.

One is trivalent chromium, which is not harmful to humans. The other type, hexavalent chromium, is considered toxic.

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Sources of the harmful chromium include chrome plating, welding, leather tanning and ferrochrome metals.

Inhalation of chromium, a known human carcinogen, has been shown to cause lung cancer in steel workers, per the CDC.

10. Nickel

A heavy metal that is a known carcinogen, nickel is found in electroplating, circuitry, electroforming and batteries, noted Oertle.

Nickel has been linked to an increased risk of lung and nasal cancers, per the National Cancer Institute.

Overall, more than 1.9 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2023, and around 609,820 cancer-related deaths were reported, according to the ACS.

Dr. Brett Osborn

Dr. Brett Osborn, a Florida neurologist and owner of Senolytix, a longevity-based health consultancy, pointed out that in addition to being aware of the various carcinogens and limiting exposure to them, it’s also important to take measures to quell inflammation.

“Cancer, aside from those associated with a specific gene mutation, is an environmental disease.”

“Nearly all age-related diseases, of which cancer is one, are underpinned by low levels of inflammation,” Osborn told Fox News Digital.

To reduce inflammation, the doctor recommends eating a low glycemic index diet rich in olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish or flax, strength training regularly, getting adequate sleep and using a probiotic supplement.

“Show your body the right signals, and it will respond in kind – you’ll have your health,” Osborn said. “Expose it to the wrong signals and you’ll turn on the ‘oncogenes’ that cause cancer.”

The doctor added, “Cancer, aside from those associated with a specific gene mutation (typically pediatric cancer), is an ‘environmental’ disease, period.”

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