Long-term Incense Exposure May Up Cancer RiskAug 25, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Being exposed to burning incense can increase the likelihood of developing airway cancers, a new study has found. According to the study conducted by researchers at Copenhagen's Statens Serum Institut, long-term exposure to incense smoke is linked to certain respiratory tract, lung, tongue and mouth cancers. The risks exist even among people who don't smoke tobacco products.
Incense burning produces particulate matter and is known to contain possible carcinogens such as polyaromatic hyodrcarbons (PAHs), carbonyls and benzene. Previous studies have shown that indoor concentrations of particulate matter from burning incense has been found to far exceed outdoor air quality standards, and can potentially produce more particulate matter than second-hand tobacco smoke.
A number of studies have looked into the possible link between incense inhaled into the lungs and lung cancer, but the findings have not been conclusive. But this is first to follow healthy people over a long period of time.
The incense study followed 60,000 Chinese residents of Singapore who were enrolled as participants between 1993 and 1998. and followed until 2005. The study participants, who were all cancer-free at the time of enrollment, were interviewed in detail about their dietary and lifestyle habits, including their exposure to incense. About 75 percent were regular, frequent incense users.
Over the course of the study, 325 upper respiratory tract cancers and 821 lung cancers were reported. The risk of developing squamous cell upper respiratory tract cancers including nasal/sinus, tongue, mouth and laryngeal was almost doubled by frequent incense exposure. The risk was the same in both smokers and nonsmokers, pointing to an independent effect of incense smoke.
Despite the increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, frequent exposure to incense smoke was not associated with an overall risk of lung cancer.
Though not as dangerous as smoking, the study has prompted experts to caution that repeated exposure to incense be avoided. "The American Lung Association is going to add it as a risk factor," Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the association, told "US News & World Report."