Open Accessibility Menu

Are You Exposed to Cancer-Causing Carcinogens?

  • Category: Cancer
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Dr. William Varnado, Hematology Oncology
Are You Exposed to Cancer-Causing Carcinogens?

A carcinogen is something that could cause cancer, and it can come in different forms, from a substance in the air you can’t see to a product in your home. In fact, you likely come in contact with multiple carcinogens on any given day. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer -- both your genes and how much exposure you’ve had to a carcinogen play a big factor. It’s always a good idea to know what’s out there and when to worry, so here are the most common carcinogens you’ll encounter:


By the numbers, tobacco has 70 chemicals considered carcinogens, and they’re all bad news. Widely considered the worst thing you can do to your body, using tobacco puts you at a very high risk of lung cancer and increase the risk for almost any other cancer. Vaping and chewing tobacco are not much better.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays

Exposure to UV rays from either the sun or tanning beds not only causes aging and skin damage but also puts you at a higher risk for some skin cancers. Lamps at nail salons that set gel manicures and dry polish also use UV rays. A recent study found that chronic exposure to these lamps may raise the risk of DNA damage that could lead to skin cancer.


Alcohol use has been connected to multiple cancers, not just liver cancer. For example, drinking and smoking together raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus. And even a few drinks a week can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Processed meat

Processed meat, which includes bacon, hot dogs, sausage and ham, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Researchers found that eating a certain amount of processed meat every day -- the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog -- increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50 in the U.S., and there’s mounting evidence linking an unhealthy diet—in particular, one high in processed meat and fat, and low in fruits and vegetables—to early-onset colorectal cancer. Fresh meat and fish are healthy alternatives.


This fibrous mineral can be found in products like insulation and fireproofing materials, automotive brakes, and wallboard materials, and is typically a concern in older buildings. People with the highest risk are those who have worked in fields like shipbuilding and insulation as well as their families, as the fibers can be carried home on clothing and inhaled.


Outside, this colorless, odorless, radioactive gas usually doesn’t cause an issue, but if it builds up indoors, it can harm your lungs. The EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels. It can be found in many building materials, and levels can be checked with a simple home detection kit.


Formaldehyde can be found in many products in the home like fabric or furniture, as well as many personal care products and cosmetics, from nail polish and hair straighteners to shampoo and blush. This endocrine-disrupting chemical can interfere with hormones and may be linked to cancer.

Learn more about cancer screenings and prevention and about cancer care in Baton Rouge.

William Varnado​​

William Varnado, MD
Hematology Oncology 
Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center 
(225) 215-0800