Fast-paced urban lifestyle increases one’s vulnerability to cancer by exposing a person to a variety of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents. Oncologists identify five biggest carcinogenic threats for city-dwellers.
Late or no exposure to progesterone
Girls are getting their menses at ages as young as eight, and the average age of menopause has gone up to 55. This means that women go through a lot of hormonal cycles in their lifetime. Higher exposure to these hormones increases the risk of breast, endometric and ovarian cancer.
Dr Sanjay Dudhat, consultant surgical oncologist,NanavatiHospital, Mumbai, says that exposure to the right hormones at the right age play a vital role in keeping the body balance in check. A woman needs to be exposed to progesterone before the age of 30, which means she should ideally have her first pregnancy before 30 to reduce the risk of cancer.
However, a pregnancy after 30 and delayed exposure to progesterone actually increases the risk. “But, the average urban woman spends most of her twenties figuring out — education, career and finances, childbirth is typically delayed to early or late thirties. Also, long-term consumption of contraceptive pills adds to the risk. These are lifestyle choices that women make, but medically, it does put them at a higher risk of cancers typical to women due to varied hormonal exposures,” he says.
Taste enhancers, preservatives and colours
Instant noodles and Chinese fast food include monosodium glutamate (MSG), a taste enhancer. Though MSG hasn’t been proven to be carcinogenic, it produces free radicals, which may lead to cancer in tissues and organs. Prolonged exposure to free radicals eventually activates onco genes, or cancer genes. That pack of chicken or a tin of sardines could contain nitrite and sodium nitrite in combination with salt. These anti-microbial flavouring agents can react with amino acids to form nitrosamine, known to cause liver cancer. Many foods contain additives that pose a potential cancer risk. Preservatives like DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and bronopol, commonly used in food and cosmetics, release carcinogenic formaldehyde.
Packaged fruit juices, sweets and soft drinks contain food colours that are most commonly derived from coal tar. These could be mildly carcinogenic. Fruits may contain pesticides, and nearly 20% of known pesticides are carcinogenic. According to Dr Dudhat, these pesticides could be present in water used for cooking as well.
With real estate boom, construction projects have mushroomed all over, releasing asbestos in air. Asbestos has been linked to lung cancer. Oncologists confirm that lung cancer cases in Mumbai are increasing, and one of the factors contributing to the increase could be asbestos exposure. Hours spent commuting expose the body to benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Prolonged exposure to these can cause lymphoma and leukaemia.
Bisphenol A in plastic
Bisphenol A, an ingredient in plastic, is known to cause breast and prostate cancer. It’s estrogenic properties raise concern, though the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved usage of Bisphenol. Several studies have found that low intensity exposure could have adverse genetic effects on humans. Where does it come from? Your leak-proof plastic dabbas, food packaging, and even your baby’s water bottle.
Exposure to cellphone radiation
Cellphones produce a low-intensity Radiofrequency (RF) radiation. A relation between cellphone usage and cancer is debated. However, according to a study submitted to Telecom department by IIT Mumbai, using a cellphone for more than 30 minutes a day over ten years can increase the risk of brain cancer, substantially. The report also states that exposure to cellular radiation makes children more vulnerable to any cancer.
Originally published in DNA’s Sunday Mag on Jan 30, 2011