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Joss-sticks increase cancer risk: Official

Scientists issue incense fug health warning

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Researchers have warned that burning joss-sticks and incense is associated with "an increase in some types of lung cancer, and cancers of the upper respiratory tract, such as throat and mouth cancer", the Guardian reports.

In what represents a terrible blow for hippies and Strategy Boutiques*, a 12-year study by Dr Jeppe Friborg and his colleagues of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen supported previous research showing incense fug "contains cancer-causing chemicals such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, carbonyls and benzene, which cause mutations to DNA in human cells".

Between 1993 and 1998, Friborg and associates quizzed more than 60,000 ethnic Chinese people in Singapore aged between 45 and 78. They asked "how much they used incense and collected detailed information on their lifestyle including their diet and how much they drank alcohol and smoked", and excluded "all participants who had previously had cancer".

In December 2005, the team checked back in on their original guinea pigs via detailed health records in Singapore's National Cancer Registry, finding that "325 had developed cancer of the upper respiratory tract and 821 had developed lung cancer".

Once they'd adjusted the figures to include other possible cancer-causing factors, such as smoking, the researchers discovered incense did indeed increase the risk of developing the aforementioned cancers. Specifically, for example, "the small risk of developing upper respiratory tract cancers nearly doubled in people who used incense regularly".

These cancers were also "more common among women, which could be explained by the fact that women tend to spend more time in the smoky home environment".

Friborg said of the research, published in the journal Cancer: "It could be relevant for priests and others who are regularly exposed to incense, [but] I'm not sure if a short term effect would be measurable."

Friborg concluded with the warning: "I would suggest that people use incense with caution. If this study is confirmed I think regulation could be relevant." ®

Bootnote

* Now doubly at risk, it appears, since listening to whalesong can prove potentially fatal should you attempt to convince the company BOFH of the merits of cetacean chill-out CDs.

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