By James Parker
August 30, 2022

What Is a Carcinogen?

A carcinogen is any material, substance, organism, or agent that can cause cancer to develop. Carcinogens are a vast family and include many natural, environmental, or artificial sources. The most common factor that makes a substance a carcinogen is the ability of the material to alter the DNA of cells.

The classification of carcinogens is the domain of dedicated organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These organizations use evidence and scientific studies to catalog substances that are either known or reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.

More than 500 substances have been identified and classified as carcinogens. These carcinogens fall into the category of either definitive, probable, or possible human carcinogens. As further studies are completed, these categories can be adjusted. Some common examples of cataloged carcinogens include:

  • Processed meats
  • Solar radiation
  • Tobacco
  • Ultraviolet rays
  • Vehicle exhaust

While all carcinogens can cause cancer, a single, brief exposure to a carcinogen does not guarantee that the individual will contract cancer. Other factors that impact whether a carcinogen is likely to result in cancer development include genetic background, environmental factors, and duration of exposure.

Key Takeaways

  • A carcinogen is any material, substance, organism, or agent that can cause damage to the DNA of cells leading to cancer. 
  • Carcinogens are determined after considering evidence and studies by organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Asbestos is confirmed to be a human carcinogen and is theorized to be one of the only ways to develop mesothelioma. Additionally, asbestos is theorized to lead to many other cancers.
  • If you have been exposed to a carcinogen and have subsequently developed any cancers, including mesothelioma, an experienced Personal Injury attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

Carcinogens and Personal Injury Law

Asbestos is often cited as one of the more dangerous carcinogens. Asbestos is a category of six minerals that form naturally in the environment. Asbestos can be divided into either serpentine or amphibole subtypes and is generally noted for its heat and corrosion resistance.

Asbestos has historically been mined and used commercially since the 1800s. Asbestos implementation intensified during World War II, primarily in construction, shipbuilding, automotive engineering, and insulation. In addition to intentional uses of asbestos, there has also been incidental contamination of asbestos that occurred in minerals that form around asbestos naturally, such as talc or vermiculite.

Beginning in the 1970s, the possibility of asbestos as a carcinogen became more apparent, and measures were taken to start to limit the asbestos exposure consumers face. For example, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching and gas fireplaces because of the possibility of asbestos fibers being released into the environment while using these products. These federal actions were supplemented by measures from private manufacturers such as makers of electric hairdryers in 1979.

One decade later, in 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos. This has led to the current state of affairs in which asbestos is not explicitly banned, but the substance is heavily regulated.

As a known human carcinogen, asbestos is associated with several types of cancer. Mesothelioma is the most common cancer related to asbestos, a rare cancer of the thin membranes lining the chest and abdomen. Asbestos is also associated with lung cancer, larynx cancer, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, pharynx cancer, colorectal cancer, as well as asbestos pleural diseases, including asbestosis.

Bottom Line

If you have been exposed to any carcinogens such as asbestos and have developed any cancers or health complications, including mesothelioma or asbestos pleural disease, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover the costs of medical expenses, pain, suffering, or lost wages. In order to file and prevail in your personal injury lawsuit, you will need the help of an experienced Personal Injury Attorney.

With their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Personal Injury attorney will be able to zealously advocate for you in order to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Additionally, since Personal Injury attorneys work on contingency, if you don’t win, you don’t pay.

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