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What changes can a mutagen cause?

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Mutagens change DNA by punching holes in it or forcing parts of DNA to stay bound together even when they should separate, according to the Irish Cancer Society. Some mutagens also affect the way DNA is read.

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A mutagen is any substance that causes DNA to mutate, as defined by the National Cancer Institute. These substances are classified as chemical, physical or biological mutagens. Chemical mutations occur when foreign molecules attach to DNA, resulting in errors in the way the DNA code is interpreted. Substances found in vinyl chloride, overcooked foods, cigarette smoke and molds are classified as chemical mutagens, reports the Irish Cancer Society.

Ultraviolet radiation, ionizing radiation and some natural fibers are classified as physical mutagens. Ultraviolet radiation forces DNA molecules to remain bound together, altering the way the DNA sequence is interpreted. Ionizing radiation breaks the DNA sequence by punching holes in the DNA. Asbestos and other mineral fibers cause carcinogenic mutations, creating cancerous cells in the process, states the Irish Cancer Society.

Some bacterial and viral organisms also act as mutagens, increasing the risk for certain types of cancer. Some strains of the human papillomavirus have been linked to cervical cancer, while the hepatitis B virus is a factor in the development of some liver cancers. These mutagens are known as biological mutagens, says the Irish Cancer Society.

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