In pathology, a carcinogen is any substance or agent that promotes cancer.

Carcinogens are also often, but not necessarily, mutagens or teratogens.

Carcinogens may cause cancer by altering cellular metabolism or damaging DNA directly in cells, which interferes with normal biological processes.

Aflatoxin B1, which is produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus growing on stored grains, nuts and peanut butter, is an example of a potent, naturally-occurring microbial carcinogen.

Cooking protein-rich food at high temperatures, such as broiling or barbecuing meats, can lead to the formation of many potent carcinogens that are comparable to those found in cigarrette smoke (i.e., benzo[a]pyrene).Pre-cooking meats in a microwave oven for 2-3 minutes before broiling can help minimize the formation of these carcinogens.

Carcinogen, any of a number of agents that can cause cancer in humans. They can be divided into three major categories: chemical carcinogens (including those from biological sources), physical carcinogens, and oncogenic (cancer-causing) viruses. Most carcinogens, singly or in combination, produce cancer by interacting with DNA in cells and thereby interfering with normal cellular function. This ultimately results in the formation of a tumour (an abnormal tissue growth) that has the ability to spread (metastasize) from its site of origin and invade and cause dysfunction of other tissues, culminating in organ failure and death. The two primary mechanisms by which carcinogens initiate the formation of such tumours is via alterations in DNA that encourage cell division and that prevent cells from being able to self-destruct when stimulated by normal triggers, such as DNA damage or cellular injury (a process known as apoptosis). There also exist carcinogens that induce cancer through nongenotoxic mechanisms, such as immunosuppression and induction of tissue-specific inflammation.

A number of viruses are suspected of causing cancer in animals, including humans, and are frequently referred to as oncogenic viruses. Examples include human papillomaviruses, the Epstein-Barr virus, and the hepatitis B virus, all of which have genomes made up of DNA. Human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I), which is a retrovirus (a type of RNA virus), is linked to tumour formation in humans.

Chemicals: Chemicals constitute the most diverse group of carcinogens. Hundreds of chemicals are known to be carcinogenic/tumorigenic in animals. A carcinogen is termed genotoxic if it covalently binds to cellular DNA. If unrepaired, the damaged DNA may cause mutations by inducing the misincorporation of bases during DNA replication. Genotoxic carcinogens may be either direct-acting (ultimately reactive toward DNA from the outset) or they may require metabolic activation to become reactive toward DNA (indirect-acting carcinogens).

Major carcinogens implicated in the four most common cancers worldwide:
Lung cancer, Breast cancer, Colon cancer, Stomach cancer.

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