Know it, to control it

Barbequed foods on wood and cancer of the nasopharynx

The upper part of the throat behind the nose is known as the nasopharynx. Cancer of Nasopharynx is relatively rare type of head and neck cancer, however a high incidence is found in a well-defined population of Southern China and Southeast Asia, with an annual incidence of 15–50 cases per 100,000 population.

Global cancer statistics from the International Agency for Research on Cancer indicate that about 80% of the cases of Nasopharynx are located in Asia and 5% in Europe. Nasopharyngeal cancer is mistaken and not diagonosed early since the symptoms overlap with many other nose and throat conditions. When detected, the cancer is advanced, and the overall survival rates at 5 years ranges between 53%–80% in Stage 3 and about 28%–61% in Stage 4 of the disease.

Nasopharynx cancer is associated with the Epstein–Barr virus, but also certain foods and their method of cooking and curing have been associated with a higher risk for developing this type of cancer.

In Asia and Northern Europe, eating cured meats and fish is common. In these regions of the world, smoking them over a fire is a common form of cooking. This method can react adversely with meat and fish proteins. The fires such as those observed with wood ovens and barbeques can reach a temperature as high as 400 degrees centigrade. Such high temperatures cause the formation of high levels of nitrosamines, known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

Furthermore, during barbeque, the fat drips on to the wood shavings and leads to the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHCs) that stick to the surface of the food. Both these chemicals, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are potentially very dangerous as they are known to damage the de-oxy ribose nucleic acid (DNA) in the cell and lead to breaks(mutations) that can cause cancer.

Conversely, eating lots of fruit and vegetables decreases the risk for nasopharyngeal cancer.
Other than the dietary risk factor, the burning of wood itself is considered another risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer. Treated wood is often subject to harsh chemicals that can emanate toxic fumes. Breathing in these fumes from barbeque wood shavings can also become a source of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Any occupation wherein regular exposure to wood is present has been known to be a high risk setting for nasopharyngeal cancer.

A “golden rule” suggested has been to cook food until it goes yellow, not brown or black. This restricts toxic chemicals being formed, though cooking at too low temperatures are less likely to kill off bacteria, so there is more risk of food poisoning.

While using the barbeque grill, it is recommended to frequently turn the meat and to marinate the meat or fish before subjecting it to high temperatures. This ensures quicker cooking and less exposure to heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Further, lean cuts of meat with less amount of fat will not produce oil drippings that enhance the formation of flames.