Crop moulds cause cancer

The toxin, called aflatoxin, is responsible for up to 28% of liver cancer cases worldwide

Certain moulds, such as those that grow on corn, pistachios, and peanuts, produce a deadly carcinogenic toxin that is the biggest risk factor for liver cancer.

The toxin, called aflatoxin, is responsible for up to 28% of liver cancer cases worldwide. But a Michigan State University researcher is fighting the fungus and working to prevent future cases of aflatoxin-induced liver cancer.

“Our studies to this point suggest that up to 155,000 cases of liver cancer per year come from aflatoxin exposure in the diet,” Felicia Wu, a food, nutrition and agriculturaleconomics professor says. “The majority of cases occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and China, and parts of Central America.” Wu and her team are seeking to identify cost-effective and feasible aflatoxin prevention methods in developing countries. Adding another layer to the fight is vaccination, specifically hepatitis B virus. When the liver is compromised by HBV, it is more susceptible to liver cancer.

Beyond immunisation efforts, the farmers growing these crops also are part of the solution. Stressed plants are more vulnerable to mould, so a healthy field of crops is the best prevention against contamination.

Growing the food is only part of the problem, however. Storage is paramount to protecting crops after they have been harvested. Aflatoxins thrive in damp conditions and can be easily transported by insects and rodents that sneak into facilities.

The simplest solution to these challenges, Wu believes, is reducing the consumption of foods contaminated with aflatoxin.