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The section on what is cancer explained how certain dietary chemicals (carcinogens) can  encourage cancer cells to develop or grow. There are a number of fundamental mechanisms of how this could happen but the most important is the development of super oxide free radicals which are highly damaging to our precious DNA. This damage can lead to rearrangement the genes, some of which are harmful to the body but have been locked in place by other genes which had stopped them making proteins which tell the cell to misbehave. Splitting and rearranging the DNA can separate the harmful genes (oncogenes) from the suppressor genes, which is the first step in the cancer process.

It often takes several different types of mutation for the cancer process to progress, so although patients with established cancer have already sustained the initiate DNA damage in order to mutate from benign to malignant cells, the cancer process can also be fuelled by continuing consumption of foods high in carcinogens. Further DNA damage can encourage the cancer to mutate into a more aggressive type or develop mechanism to hind from the body’s immunological defences. 

Some harmful chemicals can act as carcinogen not because they damage DNA but  because they encourage cancers to be more aggressive (e.g xenoestrogens):

  • Grow faster
  • Avoid dying at the end of their natural cycle (avoid apoptosis)
  • Hide from the immunity
  • Loose their adhesion to their surrounding connective tissue
  • Invade adjacent organs
  • Spread or metastasise to distant organs

This page provides practical day to day advice on avoiding carcinogens. It is impossible to avoid all carcinogen, even with the ost fastidious lifestyle so it is also important to increase you daily intake of antioxidants (healthy chemicals which counterbalance carcinogens).

In summary avoiding carcinogens and increasing antioxidant intake can avoid cancer development, the progression of an existing  cancer and also reduce the risk of developing further cancers. These are more common in cancer survivors either because individuals with one cancer may be more susceptible from a pre-existing genetic or a prolonged exposure to carcinogen or at risk from cancer treatments themselves such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

There is a wide array of known carcinogens in our environment but they can be broadly split into the following groups:

  • Dietary carcinogens

  • Inhaled carcinogens - smoking or pollution

  • Chemicals applied to the skin - certain cosmetics

  • Excessive Ultraviolet exposure

  • Radiation

The most notorious carcinogens found in our diet or environment are:-

  • Acrylamides generated through high temperature cooking of carbohydrates.
  • Hydroperoxide, alkoxy, endoperoxides and epoxides from heated meat, eggs, fish and pasteurized milk,
  • Polycyclic or aromatic hydrocarbons from smoked, burnt, grilled or barbequed foods
  • Allylaldehyde (acrolein), butyric acid, nitropyrene, benzpyrene nitrobenzene and other nitrosamines, from heated fats and oils.
  • Methylglyoxal and chlorogenic atractyosides in over roasted coffee.
  • Xenoestrogens - Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers; Car pollution, Some deodorants - (the prebans and Aluminium) Polychlorinated biphenyls PCB’s, Fuels, Polycarbonate plastic bottles including babies bottles, Food containers. Plastic film.

Of this group of carcinogens, the most commonly investigated and discussed are the acrylamides. These chemicals are most often generated in the cooking process. They can start to be generated when food is cooked at 117°F (47°C) for three minutes or longer but the main culprits are grilling, high temperature oven baking or frying of meat, fats, and starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes making crisps, chips, and baked snacks.

The evidence for the risks of acrylamides stemmed from a report issued by the researchers at the Swedish National Food Administration and Stockholm University in 2002 which reported finding that acrylamides associated with high temperature cooking of carbohydrate-rich foods were linked to cancer. In response to the public concerns raised from this research the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to analyze a variety of U.S. food products for acrylamide (AA) concentrations and now publish regular league tables. There are also now moves to legislate the introduction of AA labelling on food products. This is however, proving difficult because the levels of AA depends not only on the foods we buy but the individual cooking process and can also vary considerably from one outlet to another. The table below from 2006 can, therefore only be used as a rough guide. It must also be remembered that total ingested AA is more important than the concentration in each foods; a small quantity of a food with high levels of AA such as a cream cracker is still safer than a large quantity of food with lower concentrations such as baked potatoes intake.


Acrylamide concentrations in common foods (FDA 2004 survey)

Often greater than 1000 ug/kg

  • Burnt barbequed meat
  • Grilled sweet potato crisps (chips)
  • Veggie chips potato snacks
  • Sweet Potato crisp (chips)
  • Roasted oat bran crackers
  • Veggie crisps (chips)

Usually between 500-1000 ug/kg

  • French fries
  • Pretzels
  • Processed baked potatoes
  • Ginger snap cookies
  • Toasted corn
  • Kettle crunch potato chips
  • Hash browns
  • Pitted ripe olives
  • Tortillas original tostadas
  • Low fat bruschetta vegetable crackers
  • Sesame snacks
  • Dried soup mix

Usually between 200-500 ug/kg

  • Butter flavoured popcorn
  • Crackers with peanut butter
  • Frozen potato skins (Frozen)
  • Corn flaked cereals
  • Corn chips
  • Cream crackers
  • Processed prune juice
  • Pepper toast


Summary: General tips to avoid potential carcinogens:-

  • Steer clear of heavily processed foods, containing high concentrations of additives and unhealthy fats, salt and sugars.
  • Avoid excessive deodorants use - have days off.
  • Avoid reheating fats and oils.
  • Avoid super heated snacks such crisps, chips and roasted or baked bars.
  • Reduce aromatic hydrocarbons exposure by avoiding smoked, barbequed or burnt foods.
  • Limit foods with high AA concentrations to small amounts.
  • Try eating as much raw (healthy) food as feasible.
  • Try eating more organic foods.


Links and further resources:

What is cancerAbout specific cancers; Breast | Prostate | Bowel.  Cancer treatments; Chemotherapy | Radiotherapy | Hormones | Biological agents | Complementary.  Lifestyle advice; Exercise | Diet | Smoking | Sunbathing | Alcohol.  Cope with symptomsTraveling | Insurance | Making a will | Support groups  | Tests for cancer | Clinical trials. map
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