Purpose: Many chemical carcinogens are in food, water, air, household products, and personal care products. Although genetic susceptibility is an important factor in how an individual responds to exposure to a carcinogen, heritable genetic factors alone account for only a minor portion of cancer rates.
Methods: We review the evidence that early life exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and ionizing radiation results in elevations in cancer later in life.
Results: Because cells are rapidly dividing and organ systems are developing during childhood and adolescence, exposure to carcinogens during these early life stages is a major risk factor for cancer later in life. Because young people have many expected years of life, the clinical manifestations of cancers caused by carcinogens have more time in which to develop during characteristically long latency periods. Many chemical carcinogens persist in the body for decades and increase risk for all types of cancers. Carcinogens may act via mutagenic, nonmutagenic, or epigenetic mechanisms and may also result from disruption of endocrine systems. The problem is magnified by the fact that many chemical carcinogens have become an integral part of our food and water supply and are in air and the general environment.
Conclusions: The early life onset of a lifelong exposure to mixtures of multiple environmental chemical carcinogens and radiation contributes significantly to the etiology of cancer in later life.