Even with today’s medical advancements, cancer remains to be a very persistent disease that can be incurable in certain circumstances. While the cause for cancer can be genetic, viral, bacterial, chemical, or even radiation-related, the source can sometimes still be a mystery today. However, certain substances have been studied extensively and are known to cause cancer. We refer to such substances as carcinogenic substances. Any substance, radiation, or radioactive material that is known to induce cancer is known as a carcinogen. Given the danger of cancer and the danger of imbibing or coming into contact with dangerous substances, it's important to understand the nature of carcinogenicity and toxicity.
Carcinogenicity and Toxicity of Hydrocarbons
Many carcinogens that could make their way into the body actually do so in the form of hydrocarbons. Carcinogenicity and toxicity are not traditionally the same, although one can lead to the other. Toxicity is when the substance causes harm to the body directly and will present with symptoms over time. Carcinogenicity is the attribute of substances that will indirectly cause the body’s own cellular regeneration system to go into overdrive and cause tumors/other forms of cancer. While humans can tolerate the general level of radio waves put out by communication towers across the world, we cannot withstand most other forms of radiation that exist in the known electromagnetic spectrum.
Effect of Carcinogenicity and Toxicity
Carcinogens and toxins have a wide range of effects and symptoms, which vary based on the effect they have on the body. When dealing with toxicity, the effect is usually based on how the toxin attacks the body and how the body came in contact with it in the first place. Substances like chlorine, petroleum, mercury, arsenic, and more are some examples of highly toxic substances that the human body cannot handle. If left unchecked, some toxins can lead to irreparable damage and death.
Carcinogens (like tobacco) aren’t necessarily toxic at first glance but can cause cell irritation and breakdown of DNA, which can lead to abnormal growth and division of cells. This unchecked growth of cells is what leads to cancer and is usually very difficult to stop in later stages. Given that carcinogens aren’t necessarily toxic upon first exposure, they are far more dangerous as any cancer they cause can go unnoticed long enough for it to develop into a serious problem. It is highly advisable to stay away from carcinogens and toxic substances to maintain one’s health.
The carcinogenicity and toxicity of hydrocarbons are very carefully monitored phenomena given the harm they can cause to a community at large. Even if they do not impact the DNA directly, they can indirectly upset the body’s metabolism and heighten the risk of cancer in the future. Certain fungi and viruses are known to infect the body and cause cancer as infection proceeds. Benzene and many other polynuclear hydrocarbons are feared for their carcinogenic properties as they cause unpredictable chemical changes in the body (including breaking down of DNA). A tumour is usually formed as a result of cells undergoing accelerated, uncontrolled cell division, which will disrupt normal bodily functions at a cellular level. The fumes from tobacco, petroleum, and coal combustion usually contain polynuclear hydrocarbons.
Toxicity can be stated as the degree to which a chemical can cause damage to the human body. Most carcinogenic substances also tend to be toxic but bearable in small quantities. However, this does not detract from their carcinogenic nature as they will still increase the chances of contracting cancer. Many bacteria and fungi release toxins in the body, which can cause a wide range of symptoms. Man-made toxins like cyanide and petroleum are also extremely toxic and will cause death if imbibed.
The carcinogenicity and toxicity of hydrocarbons and other substances are a form of knowledge that should be widespread in order to increase awareness of how they are caused and how such chemicals can affect the health of a whole community depending on the carcinogen or toxin involved. While toxins and cancer can rarely be spread from one person to another (unless a virus or another infectious organism is involved), members of the same community have been known to fall prey to carcinogens or toxic chemicals when they were introduced into their community through a common source.
1. Does the body have a natural defence against toxins?
Ans: The body is actually attacked by toxins more than expected. Humans actually imbibe microbial toxins on a regular basis (as well as man-made toxins), and these toxins are filtered out before they enter the bloodstream thanks to a vital organ that humans possess; the liver. The liver is the body’s natural defense against toxins and is typically the first line of defense against poisons and toxins. The liver’s defenses can be overpowered or quelled by certain powerful toxins or toxic chemicals like mercury and chlorine (which exists in gaseous form).
2. Do cells in the body often undergo uncontrolled division?
Ans: The body is made up of trillions of cells with multiple interlocking systems that work together to keep it functional. It is quite natural that some cells go out of control in such cases only to attempt undistinguished division. In such cases, the body already has a natural reaction programmed into its own genetic code to induce the process of apoptosis (pre programmed cell death), which will cause the cells to kill themselves before they can divide into undifferentiated, uncontrolled cells. If that fails, macrophages will move in to consume the affected cell or other cells will attempt to deny nutrition to the affected cell. Cancer is the result of the failure of all the mechanisms the body has in place to control unchecked cell division.
3. Can natural substances be toxic or carcinogenic?
Ans: While it is often thought that man-made substances and chemicals are what cause cancer, many carcinogens and toxins exist in nature as well. The hepatitis virus can cause cancer when it infects its host, many vegetable alkaloids can be extracted from natural sources which will cause paralysis, and even death should human beings come in contact with them. The poison arrow tree frog secretes a very powerful toxin, which is powerful enough to kill a human simply by touching it. While man-made toxins and carcinogens are a real risk to public health and safety, it is possible to find substances with significant carcinogenicity and toxicity in nature as well.