Carcinogens are substances or agents that cause cancer. Many things are said to cause cancer, but proven carcinogens are actually more difficult to pin down. A good rule is this: if the substance/agent has the ability to damage the genetic code of a cell or causes the disruption of cellular metabolic processes, it is a carcinogen. Well known examples include asbestos, tobacco smoke, and dioxins.
Here’s some more info: carcinogens are commonly radioactive. In this case, it is not the substance itself, but the gamma and alpha radiation that the substance releases (forms of high frequency light) that cause the cell damage. This makes cigarettes and alcoholic beverages particularly dangerous because of the high levels of radiation that they contain.
Beyond chemical carcinogens, there are several microbial agents that are known carcinagens. HPV (Human Paploma Virus, the virus that causes warts) and Hepititus B are examples.
There are also a multitude of carcinogens that naturally form on meat cooked at high temperatures (grilling or broiling for example).
I wouldn’t say that carcinogens are necessarily COMMONLY radioactive. Although radioactive substances are carcinogenic, the vast majority of carcinogenic subtances are NON-radioactive. For instance, radioactive polonium 210 is found in cigarettes. It is a carcinogen. And it does contribute to the overall carcinogenicity of cigarettes. However, it is actually a minor player compared to non-radioactive carcinogens such as polynuclear aromatic compounds and nitrosamines. Also, alcoholic beverages are not as a general rule radioactive.
In addition to the already added information by mjkonopisos and TristinTobias, here is a list of common carcinogens:
Ethanol (in alcoholic beverages)
Estrogens (steroidal & nonsteroidal)
There is a complete list here: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/GeneralInformationaboutCarcinogens/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens
A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that is an agent directly involved in causing cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes. Several radioactive substances are considered carcinogens, but their carcinogenic activity is attributed to the radiation, for example gamma rays and alpha particles, which they emit. Common examples of carcinogens are inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke.
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