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Will Consuming Carcinogenic Substances Actually Give Us Cancer?

Diet Coke, sugar-free chewing gums and even ice-creams are about to be declared a carcinogenic, or possible cancer risk to humans, later this month by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This is because the products, along with about another 6,000 foods, contains the artificial sweetener Aspartame.

But what does “possibly carcinogenic to humans” actually mean, and will consuming these sweet treats increase our risk of developing cancer?


RMIT Professor of Chemistry and internationally recognised expert in analytical science, Oliver Jones joins Antoinette Lattouf on The Briefing to break down the facts.

Professor Jones says even with the associated risks made public, it’s in human nature to still expose ourselves to things that could cause us harm.

But even these products which are recognised as carcinogenic can be exposed to humans in moderation – which is what many of us do when we do know of potential risks.

“The thing is, you can’t avoid risk altogether in your life, right?” Professor Jones said.

“It’s not really about whether something causes cancer or not; it’s whether is causes cancer at the level to which you’re exposed to it.

“For example, you don’t lie in the sun in the. Idle of summer on the beach, roasting yourself for six hours at a time, because that’s going to increase your risk of cancer. But you might go out for half an hour with some sunscreen on.”

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Professor Jones also explains that it’s the WHO’s and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to identify potential risks – no matter what the likelihood is.

The WHO and IARC will also not indicate how much of a chemical or substance could make a food product carcinogenic.  Professor Jones notes this is because the amount of exposure to one person can be different for another to increase the chance of cancer.

“There’s nothing that’s totally safe for you and there’s nothing that’s sort of definitely 100 per cent going to kill you as soon as you look at it,” he says.

“In terms of the IARC list, their job is to review chemicals to see whether they might cause cancer or not. Whether there’s a potential risk, yes or no, no matter what the likelihood of that outcome is.”

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