Smoked food contains compound pyrene rings, which are nonpolar molecules that slide in between the base pairs of your DNA – and they start sliding in between the DNA of your gut cells (intestines). As the cells have their own repair mechanisms, a lot of the time they can repair DNA that has these intruders messing up the data library of the DNA. These rings cause DNA misreading if not found and repaired. Enough pyrene rings thrown into the DNA can totally destroy and fragment DNA. If they are too damaged, that’s when cancer can start. Hence, the way that smoked foods can generate cancer is through the poisoning of the DNA. The other mechanism by which pyrene rings cause damage is that they can be modified by the liver into chemicals that create oxidative damage to liver cells – chemicals that are more harmful than the original compound themselves.
The big reason why not everyone gets cancer with smoked foods is that different people have different levels of ability to repair broken DNA. However, there is a strong association.
It depends on the food to some degree. Foods that are preserved with nitrites (already considered carcinogenic) can get worse. Certain foods contain chemical compounds that naturally become carcinogens when they are changed by the heat of cooking, especially burning (which is prolonged and/or hotter). That’s all it takes to make carcinogens. Meat has more of these compounds than most vegetables. Burnt food also tends to taste nasty.
As for causing cancer because you eat burned food…
Normally this isn’t going to be a big deal. Cancer isn’t a simple disease. Carcinogens are basically chemicals that have a chance of disrupting certain cellular functions that limit the cell from reproducing and growing unchecked, and that make it cooperate with other cells. In other words, cancer is like a kind of anarchy in the body.
To cause cancer, carcinogens have to avoid being digested (broken apart chemically), get into the cell, avoid being neutralized or broken up for parts inside the cell, and then damage part of the cell’s machinery. To become cancerous, the cell has to be prone to breaking in that particular way due to age, damage from other chemicals and/or radiation, and have its self-destruct (apoptosis) not go off before it’s done going crazy.
Then the cancer cell has to survive the immune system, make more copies of itself, gang up on the nearby cells, join up with a gang of similar cancer cells from nearby, and get strong enough to take over without dying from infighting between the cancer cells.
So the snarky answer is “slowly and gradually if at all.”
The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and represent the opinions of the authors. The authors are not medical doctors and do not engage directly or indirectly in diagnosing disease, dispensing medical advice, or prescribing the use of any products or services as treatment for sickness or disease. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.