Updated 13 April 2017

Chemicals and cancer

Whether chemicals cause cancer or not is still being hotly debated and is a very murky area.


There is some indication that some chemical compounds can lead to a very high incidence of cancer, such as aflatoxin, which often leads to a susceptibility to Hepatitis B.

The recent aflatoxin scandal in the Eastern Cape is actually a real disaster. It appears that as many as 4,5 million children have been exposed to the very real possibility of liver cancer. They should all be immunised by the government.

It reminds one of the scandal 25 years ago of the Greatstart Pronutro product, which was tested and found to contain enormously high aflatoxins. It was withdrawn for six months, following admissions by the company. These had been preceded by violent denials.

The MRC should become a central testing facility for foodstuffs according to Dr Albrecht of CANSA. With the dissolution of the different control boards, food testing seemed to fall between the cracks. It appears that few other chemicals are causes of cancers.

Nitrates, about which there was a huge scare a few years ago, seem to be relatively harmless. They also are found naturally. The Chinese and the Japanese also often get stomach cancer as a result of the high levels of calcium nitrate preservatives in their diets.

Strong curry does not cause stomach or bowel cancer. Many of the spices are in fact anti-carcinogenic, such as cumin.

PUBMED have studied the incidence of cancer amongst farmers who are exposed to pesticides.

The tobacco industry for many years spread the rumour that pollution causes cancer. This is basically unfounded.

Recent theory that pilots and other airline personnel who have spent 20 000 hours in the air are at increased risk of radiation. The incidence of leukaemias amongst those with 20 or more years of flying is five times higher than in the population at large. Should they be protected under the SA Radiation safety regulations?

Read more:
Stomach Cancer
Cancer and your diet


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CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

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