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   Jul 17


Ideas about the cause of lung cancer have been so dominated by recognition of the effect of smoking for the last forty years that it is sometimes easy to forget that there may be other important causal factors and that lung cancer still occurs in non-smokers. The effect of smoking is so strong that it can be quite difficult to unravel other causes, because the presence of a few smokers in any group will so alter the statistics. However, there are undoubtedly other factors at work in the development of lung cancer and many of them can now be judged.
Cooking with a Wok and Rape-seed Oil. Among women who do not smoke lung cancer is commonest in the Chinese. The risk is quite substantial: between two and three times greater than the risk in white women and Japanese women. The effect is observed whether the Chinese live in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Hawaii, and it is limited to women – Chinese non-smoking men have the same chance of lung cancer as a non-smoking white man.
A probable explanation for this observation was unravelled by Gao and colleagues in 1987. It seems that very-nigh-temperature cooking using some kinds of oil in a wok, and presumably inhaling the burnt chemicals given off, may be a factor in lung cancer. The comparison was made between Chinese women who cooked with rape-seed oil and noted irritation of their eyes when they were cooking and those who never had such irritation and used only soya-bean oil. The difference in lung cancer risk was threefold. Studies in the laboratory show that the fumes from rape-seed oil are more capable of altering DNA (being mutagenic) than are those from soya-bean oil, to the story seems to add up.
This effect is considerably greater than the effect of passive smoking but has not attracted so much attention. Fortunately simple precautions can be taken; improved ventilation in East-era kitchens might well be achieved without great coat.
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