IARC Monographs Program Finds Betel-quid and Areca-Nut Chewing Carcinogenic to Humans

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Betel-quid and areca-nut chewing - a traditional habit widely practiced in many parts of Asia - is also popular among immigrants resident in the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, North America and Australia. An international working group of scientific experts convened by the Monographs Programme of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, has reviewed the published studies related to cancer and chewing betel quid and areca nut. A previous evaluation in 1985 had found that chewing betel quid with tobacco is carcinogenic to humans. The new evaluation goes further to conclude that chewing betel quid without tobacco is also carcinogenic to humans. The working group also concluded that the areca nut, a common component of many different chewing habits, is carcinogenic to humans.

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A Widespread Habit

Betel quid generally consists of betel leaf (from the Piper betle vine), areca nut (from the Areca catechu tree), and slaked lime (predominantly calcium hydroxide), to which tobacco is often added. Other ingredients and flavouring agents can be included according to local preferences and practices.

Betel-quid and areca-nut chewing are widely practiced in many parts of Asia and in Asian-migrant communities elsewhere in the world, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide. Betel quid is chewed for many reasons, including for its stimulant effects, to satisfy hunger, to sweeten the breath, and as a social and cultural practice. Traditional as well as commercially packaged products are now freely available in "pan shops" in many cities outside Asia. The United Kingdom is the number one importing country outside of Asia, with imports having doubled since the early 80

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