Simply hearing the term mold is enough to make most people uncomfortable. And unfortunately, hearing about it can often be the least of your problems as it is not at all uncommon to see mold in your home. Mold can grow indoors, it can grow outdoors, and it is essentially everywhere. The fact is, you are exposed to mold on a regular basis.
You’ve also certainly heard that mold can cause health problems. Because it is so widespread, it is perfectly normal to wonder what those problems are as they may be a very real issue for you. And as you are thinking about this, the question, “does mold cause cancer?” will undoubtedly cross your mind at some point.
We are here to answer that question, and our response is a mixture of good news and bad. The bad news is that certain types of mold can cause cancer (specifically, liver cancer). But the good news is that this is not likely.
However, this is a complex question and to answer it fully, we need to explain what mold actually is. And more importantly, we need to explain how it can affect you.
What Is Mold?
A mold is a fungus. There are many species of molds out there, thousands in fact. That is why they can differ so widely in terms of appearance and color (you have black mold, green mold, etc.). In order to thrive, molds require a damp environment. That is why if you do have mold in your home, you’re most likely to find it in places such as your bathroom or basement.
Molds reproduce using spores. These tiny particles travel through the air, and you will frequently come into contact with them. When the amounts are small, these spores tend to be harmless to humans. Although, there are always people who are especially sensitive to them.
The problem arises when the spores get to a damp spot somewhere in your home. If the environment is suitable, they will begin to grow and spread. This mold will release even more spores into the air, and this is where it becomes easy to inhale larger amounts of them.
In theory, it is also possible to ingest the mold from your home orally. But, that would require actually eating it. Since this is not a likely scenario, inhalation is how mold usually affects humans. And because of this, when people think about mold and cancer, lung cancer is usually the first association.
Mold and Lung Cancer
We’ve explained why lung cancer is the primary concern in this context. And this connection seems very logical.
We know that harmful airborne substances can cause lung cancer. Tobacco smoke is the biggest culprit here but you also have asbestos fibers, coal dust, etc. We also know that mold spores can be a harmful airborne substance. It is thus not a big leap to connect the two.
Fortunately for us, there is no definitive evidence proving this link. Research simply hasn’t been able to directly tie mold to lung cancer. Even indirect links don’t seem all that probable. Long-term exposure to mold can cause several lung diseases, some of which are very serious, but it is those diseases that should be your primary concern. These are conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, etc. As far as lung cancer is concerned, mold simply does not appear to be a relevant risk factor.
Mold and Liver Cancer
Lung cancer may be out of the equation, but that does not mean molds are completely in the clear. We’ve already mentioned that liver cancer is associated with some molds. Specifically, this has to do with substances known as aflatoxins and the two types of molds that produce them: Aspergillus parasiticus and Aspergillus flavus.
You can primarily find these molds on various agricultural crops (corn, rice, different nuts, etc.). The molds can contaminate the crops before the harvest, during it, or at a later date (due to improper storage). If people are exposed to increased doses of the aflatoxins they produce, many medical problems can occur as a result. This exposure can happen it two ways.
One is through inhalation. When crops need to be handled and processed, that creates a lot of dust. If molds are present in the crops, there is a risk that agricultural workers may end up breathing them in. However, this is not the typical way for people to be exposed to this family of toxins. That would be through diet.
Once again, there are two possibilities here. One is direct exposure by eating plant products which have been contaminated. The other is to consume dairy products or meat coming from animals that had been given contaminated feed.
Fortunately, governments are well aware of this risk and have safeguards in place. Many countries rigorously test their food for aflatoxins while food manufacturers will also treat their products before they reach the consumers. As a result, the risk of exposure isn’t high, particularly in developed countries. For example, there has never been a reported outbreak of a human sickness caused by aflatoxins in the United States.
How to Deal with Mold
As you can see, the mold in your home isn’t likely to cause cancer. However, that does not mean you shouldn’t immediately remove any traces of it you can find. To achieve this, you have two objectives.
The first is to get rid of existing mold growths. For this, you can use various commercial products, a bleach solution, or just soap and water. If something like a carpet has been soaked and you think it may be moldy, you’ll have to remove it.
The other goal is to prevent future growth. This means resolving any moisture problems you might have. You should attempt to reduce the humidity levels – a dehumidifier will help you here. You should also ensure your home has proper ventilation, particularly in the areas where you shower, cook, and do your laundry.
Furthermore, you need to fix any leaks you have whether it’s the roof, windows, or pipes. And if you do fall victim to flooding, make sure to thoroughly clean and dry the affected areas as soon as possible.
So, does mold cause cancer? In theory, yes. Certain types of mold are associated with liver cancer. But in practice, this risk is not big enough to cause a panic. You should be careful with foods that may contain aflatoxins, but this is something that governments already regulate.
Still, you do not want to see mold anywhere in your home and should do everything in your power to remove it. Regardless of cancer, a mold-free home is much healthier to live in.