Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, responsible for over 8 million deaths annually. It is well-established that tobacco use can lead to many health issues, including lung cancer and heart disease. But what is it in tobacco that specifically causes cancer? Here, we will uncover the culprit behind tobacco-induced cancers – a group of chemicals known as carcinogens.
Carcinogens are substances or agents that have been shown to be capable of causing cancer in humans. These substances work by damaging DNA within cells, which can lead to changes in the genetic code that may result in uncontrolled cell growth and ultimately tumor formation.
There are several types of carcinogens present in our environment and lifestyle choices. However, cigarette smoking remains one of the most significant sources of exposure to these harmful chemicals for people around the world.
Fun Fact: Did you know that not all carcinogens found naturally on our planet are harmful? Some foods like broccoli, cabbage and kale contain natural compounds labelled glucosinolates which can produce a substance called sulforaphane when broken down that has anti-cancer properties?
Chemicals In Tobacco Smoke That Cause Cancer
When it comes down to it there isn’t just one compound responsible for causing cancer among smokers. There’s actually a whole bunch! Here are few commonly encountered ones:
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons form when organic matter burns incompletely. These undesirable chemicals attach themselves onto airborne particles such as dust or smoke which then make their way into your lungs whereby they’re deposited deep inside your breathing tubes where they cause damage¹.
It’s also worth mentioning here PAHs aren’t only contained exclusively within cigarettes; any kind of smoke or fumes that blazes will produce them too, which is something to think about next time you tuck into a nice barbeque.
Nitrosamines are a group of organic compounds with very potent carcinogenic effects. They form when tobacco is cured and processed in the presence of nitrates². Inhalation occurs as a particle travelling down your windpipe all the way into the tiny air sacs in your lungs.
One particularly harmful nitrosamine that’s often found in cigarette smoke goes by the name NNK – it regularly gets investigated by researchers looking into interventions to reduce smoking-mediated cancer deaths.
This one might ring bells for any high school chemistry students here; benzene is an unstable compound characterized by its sweet odour and must be dealt with cautiously due to its extremely toxic properties³. It’s used widely in industry for making plastics, coatings and resins whereby workers exposed can inhale harmful vapors over extended periods causing diseases such as leukemia along other maladies⁴. In addition this toxin is also present exclusively within cigarettes, where after being smoked causes lung damage among countless other health risks!
Tobacco And Cancer Go Hand-In-Hand
Given everything we’ve explored so far, it should come as no surprise that tobacco use has been linked to many different types of cancer, including:
- Lung cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney and renal pelvis cancers
- Pancreatic cancer
- Stomach cancer
Lingering chemicals from cigarette intake can increase a individuals risk having any one of these debilitating conditions; screening and early detection remain key tools for challenging outcomes.
Fun fact: Second hand cigarette smoke still contains enough carcinogens to harm others’ health even if they don’t indulge themselves making smoking not only dangerous but also selfish⁵.
In conclusion, tobacco poses one of the single most significant risks to public health. The chemicals found within cigarettes cause immense damage to our bodies particularly when inhaled and can have long-lasting effects on our wellbeing. However smoking isn’t the only way we’re constantly exposed – car exhausts, barbeques and industrial fumes all still release carcinogens into the air and understanding those environmental sources remain crucial for lifestyle management.
1) What are some other types of everyday items that contain toxic chemicals?
Some potential examples could include plastics , cleaning chemicals, air pollution , asbestos-containing products and lead-acid batteries⁶!
2) Are e-cigarettes safer than regular cigarettes when it comes to cancer risk?
Here’s what we know so far: while e-cigarettes don’t burn & therefore aren’t believed to pose a similar respiratory risk they contain nicotine, an addictive substance known harmful to fetal brain development³! Although no direct correlation present at this point between vaping medium & certain cancers current evidence suggests medical safety concerns along with emerging anecdotal evidence seems raises questions around their future usage in society but more scientific inquiry necessary before making broad conclusions just yet⁵.
3) Do any foods promote anti-cancer activity?
Absolutely! Although not guaranteed there are certain compounds found naturally occurring within many whole fruits/veggies such as cruciferous greens like kale or broccoli which you read about earlier than can encourage the body’s natural defenses against tumor growth thanks partially to its star antioxidant chlorophyll².
- National Cancer Institute. Causes of Cancer: Chemical Agents and Related Occupations.
- Harvard School of Public Health- Antioxidants: Beyond The Hype
- National Institutes Of Health Toxnet Database: Benzene 2014
- Investing News Network-A Look at Platinum Investments of the Future
- World Health Organization-Secondhand tobacco smoke: an overview.
- Environmental Defence Canada: Toxic Substances in Everyday Life