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Avoid Environmental Carcinogens

Cancer is predominantly caused by environmental factors, rather than inherent biological factors. Importantly, it is possible to reduce exposure to many of these risk factors.

What Are Environmental Factors that Cause Cancer?

These include:

  • infectious agents such as Human Papilloma Virus, Hepatitis B Virus and Hepatitis C Virus
  • lifestyle-related risk factors such as tobacco use, diet, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and sun exposure
  • exposure to environmental carcinogens and pollutants, such as benzene and formaldehyde.

What is a Carcinogen?

A cancer causing agent or factor is officially known as a carcinogen. Carcinogens attack the DNA of the cell, causing mutations. This can cause cells to divide or multiply out of control. These cancer cells multiply and grow into a lump or tumour that can spread to other parts of the body.

Your risk of getting cancer increases the more you are exposed to a carcinogen.

It is important to be aware of the different carcinogens and avoid or limit exposure to them in order to reduce your risk of getting cancer.

Environmental Carcinogens:

Occupational Carcinogens in SA

Occupation related cancer exists in air pollution, UV radiation and indoor radon.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), lung cancer, mesothelioma, and bladder cancer are the most common types of occupational cancers.

Individuals in the South African workplace are protected by staunch legislation including the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the South African Hazardous Substances Act, as well as The Asturias Declaration.

The South African Institute for Occupational Health also helps in informing and advising workers about safe and healthy working environments.

Being mindful of workplace health hazards, is the first step in ensuring that a healthy environment is created for all.

The most common examples of chemicals and compounds found in South African employment arenas, include:

  • asphalt fumes (coal tar pitch): – road tar workers
  • benzene: workers who work with petrochemical compounds such as diesel fumes
  • hexavalent chromium: workers who work with compounds including electroplating, welding, and chromate painting
  • formaldehyde: workers in synthetic chemical industries and in beauty salons
  • coke oven emissions: workers in the steel industry

Slideshow and PPT: English | Afrikaans


Other Industrial Pollution

  • Asbestos – identify and avoid asbestos areas and products where they still exist
  • Cadmium ore – avoid mining area sludge and contaminated water, dispose of batteries safely
  • Naphthalene
  • Uranium ore – do not drink or swim in contaminated mine water
  • Tetrachloroethylene: used in dry cleaning industry, to clean metal machinery, manufacture certain products and chemicals

Man-made Molecules

  • Acrylamide – limit potato crisp intake, especially for children
  • PlasticisersUse plasticiser-free clingwrap 
  • Bisphenol A – avoid plastic that has a triangle with a number 7 in the centre and a PC indicated at the bottom, especially for baby feeding bottles – download the ‘Plastic Identification Codes’ list (supplied by Plastics|SA)
  • Transfats – avoid food with more than 2% transfatty acid like confectionary and processed foods. Only use margarines with less than 2% transfats – Canola Blossom Magarine is a Smart Choice
  • Motor vechicle exhaust fumes – avoid inhalation of fumes

For more information regarding industrial and man-made environmental carcinogens read CANSA’s Position Statements and Fact Sheets

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What harms your health…

Lifestyle Risk Factors:

Read more about the benefits of improving your lifestyle – a balanced lifestyle is the key to health…

CANSA’s Type B Research Projects:

Our type B research projects are largely initiated, conceptualized and conducted by CANSA, although this may be in conjunction with other institutions.

These projects focus on looking at ways to reduce public exposure to environmental carcinogens. This is achieved through conducting:

  • research that provides us with greater understanding on how to encourage and facilitate positive behavior change in terms of choices with regards to lifestyle-related risk factors, eg. tobacco use, diet, physical activity, sunsmart behavior and regular cancer screening.
  • research on possible environmental carcinogens and pollutants
  • research to screen and evaluate products, and where appropriate, award these with the CANSA ‘Smart Choice’ Seal of Recognitionto indicate that these products may help to reduce the risk of cancer, in conjunction with other positive lifestyle choices

The results of these projects are made available to the public through our website, health campaigns, brochures and fact sheets.

They are also used for advocacy activities and to lobby government and industry for change where necessary.

Read more:

Links to CANSA Position Statements:

  • Alcohol
  • Asbestos
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Tobacco
  • Vaccines and vaccination
  • CANSA recommended diet

we-look-inside reduceLinks to CANSA Fact Sheets:

  • Known causes of cancer
  • BPS
  • BPA
  • Balanced Lifestyle
  • Being sunsmart
  • Obesity and Cancer

Read more about the CANSA SunSmart and Smart Choice Seal of Recognition

Do you have a question?
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 0800 22 6622 Toll Free
 072 197 9305 English and Afrikaans (text only)
 071 867 3530 isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi (text only)


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