What you need to know about cancer and our environment


Did you know that each day 36 people in Singapore are being told that they have cancer? Making it a worrying rise as the country’s top killer. There has been about a 17 percent rise in the reported cancer cases since 2010. According to the statistics given by the National Cancer Center Singapore, colorectal cancer and breast cancers reside as number one in the lists of most prevalent cancers among Singaporean men and women respectively.


What’s the role of environmental factors in increasing cancer risk? 

Sir Richard Doll and Sir Richard Peto, through their report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, published in 1981, estimated that 2 percent of cancer deaths were attributable to exposures to environmental pollutants and four percent to exposures in occupational settings. In 2009, it was reported that those percentages amounted to about 30,000 U.S. deaths, giving us a clear cut warning about the negative effects environmental pollution could have upon increasing the cancer risk.


From the womb to the tomb, modern man is being threatened by these countless number of carcinogens in their food, air, water and consumer goods. National Institute of Health in U.S. has identified 54 carcinogenic substances which are emitted in uncontrollably higher numbers due to environmental pollution and have the potential to cause at least one type of cancer. Compounds such as Benzene, a common air pollutant in vehicle and industrial smoke is known to cause Leukaemia. Its use as an ingredient in pesticides was banned in 1997 as people who are employed in the petrochemical industry, pharmaceutical industry, leather industry, rubber industry, gas stations and in the transportation industry are found to be at high risk for developing leukaemia.

Increased rates of mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer affecting the cell lining of lungs and liver have been commonly observed in people exposed to Asbestos. Asbestos fibres are released into the environment from the use and deterioration of more than 5,000 asbestos products we come across in our day to day life such as cement pipes, roof and floor sheets, gaskets, plastics, textile and paper products. Several studies show increased incidence of lung, skin, and urinary cancers in humans who are exposed to mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).


What are PAHs?

The primary source of PAHs is from burning carbon containing compounds such as wood and fuel and also from gasoline and diesel in the transport industry. Increased use of heavy metals like Arsenic in wood preservatives, glass, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides is one of the leading causes for many forms of skin, lung, bladder, kidney and liver cancers, particularly when high levels are consumed in drinking water. Exposure to harmful UV rays that comes through the damaged ozone layer is the major cause which makes our skin cells become cancerous leading to melanoma.

According to these facts, we can understand that although personal choices, such as smoking, dietary and physical activity patterns play a major role in the development of cancer, environmental and occupational factors are involved in the causation of a large number of human cancers. So, concentrating only on your personal well-being alone will not be able to protect you from the risk of having a cancer in the future. This shows the importance of one’s individual role to take part in reducing environmental pollution to not only protect yourself but also to save thousands of people around you from this cancer devil.


Reference List

  1. https://www.singhealth.com.sg/TomorrowsMed/Article/Pages/Sharpriseinnumberdiagnosedwithcancer.aspx

  2. https://www.nccs.com.sg/patientcare/whatiscancer/cancerStatistics/Pages/Home.aspx

  3. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/what-is-cancer

  4. https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/107/4/djv044/894954/Doll-and-Peto-s-Quantitative-Estimates-of-Cancer

  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-many-cancers-are-caused-by-the-environment/

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447593/

  7. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/benzene.html

  8. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9498904

  10. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/arsenic.html

  11. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb

  12. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/what-is-cancer

  13. https://academic.oup.com/bmb/article/68/1/71/421220/Contribution-of-environmental-factors-to-cancer

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