The environment and risks of cancer development

Cancer awareness for everyone (Image credit:

The environment and risks of cancer development

By Kunlere Idowu



According to the National Cancer Institute, aside genetic factors, environmental exposure is one of the leading causes of cancer- medical practitioners have a name for them; environmental carcinogens. To put that mildly;  substances that cause, induce or predispose a person to cancer could be from the person’s environment.


Cancer is a leading killer, especially in poor countries where access to medical care is hampered by various factors. In fact, in 2008 alone, 7.6 million people died from cancer. But quite shockingly, the WHO reports that 19% of all cancers are attributable to the environment. Evidence also implicates air pollution as a leading global cause of 165, 000 lung cancer-related deaths in 2004.



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Substances that cause cancer are called carcinogens while environmental carcinogens are cancer-causing substances found in the environment. Examples of environmental carcinogens are air pollutants, aflatoxins, asbestos, benzidine, cadmium, coal-tar pitch, coke-oven emissions, aluminium production, ethylene oxide, indoor radon, iron and steel founding, formaldehyde, hexavalent chromium, vinyl chloride, UV radiation, wood dust etc.


Cancer can also develop through voluntary or involuntary exposures to carcinogens at the workplace, i.e., cancer can be linked to the type of work someone does. That type of cancer is called occupational cancer.


So you see, there is an undeniable link between “the Environment” and the likelihood of developing cancer.


Addressing cancer is everyone’s priority

There have been various initiatives/tools by the WHO to globally reduce the menace of cancer that result from environmental exposure including:

  • WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control;
  • Policy on elimination of asbestos-related diseases;
  • Guidelines for air quality and drinking water quality;
  • Policy options for prevention and mitigation of radon;
  • Practical advice and information on health effects of UV exposure;
  • Safety standards for chemicals and food, including cancer-causing contaminants like dioxins and aflatoxins;
  • The International Programme on Chemical Safety, including Ten chemicals of major public health concern;
  • WHO’s global plan of action on workers’ health.



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What should your response be as an individual?

  • Be more aware of your health and the state of your Environment
  • Take necessary precautions, live healthier

Unsafe acts and a compromised environment increase your chances of developing cancer.

  • Go for regular screening

Early detection saves. Cancer does not have to kill. Yes, cancer is curable but a person’s chances of survival could depend on how early the cancer is detected.

  • Encourage your friends and relatives to go for screening too

Be a lifesaver, be an evangelist, encourage your friends, family, colleagues and loved ones to go get screened.

  • Spread the awareness

Like Billionaire entrepreneur and teacher extraordinaire, Strive Masiyiwa rightly encouraged us, Join the #PinkRibbonRedRibbon campaign. Draw up a list of 10 people around you (friends, family, colleagues, including men) and discuss with them, the need to go for early cancer screening. has made a move in that regard and has tagged its initiative #Project10- Tell ten, save ten; Early detection saves.



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Kunlere Idowu

Kunlere is an environment and sustainable development strategist with years of active experience in environmental compliance monitoring and enforcement. You may follow him on Twitter via @kunlere_idowu


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