Main Difference – Mutagen vs Carcinogen
Mutagen and carcinogen are two physical, chemical or biological factors that may cause changes in normal cell division in organisms. Approximately, 90% of the carcinogens are mutagens. The somatic cell mutations can cause cancers. The main difference between mutagen and carcinogen is that mutagen causes a heritable change in the genetic information of an organism whereas carcinogen causes or promotes cancer in animals and humans. Mutagenesis is the mechanism by which the change in the genetic material occurs whereas the carcinogenesis is the mechanism by which the formation of tumors occurs due to mutagenic events.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is a Mutagen
– Definition, Causative Agents, Function, Effect
2. What is a Carcinogen
– Definition, Causative Agents, Function, Effect
3. What are the Similarities Between Mutagen and Carcinogen
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Mutagen and Carcinogen
– Comparison of Key Differences
Key Terms: Biological Agents, Carcinogen, Carcinogenesis, Clastogens, Environmental Hazards, Intercalating Agents, Mutagen, Mutagenesis, Pathogens, Tobacco Smoking
What is a Mutagen
A mutagen is an agent, either a chemical substance or radiation, which can cause mutations. That means mutations cause changes in the genetic information of an organism. Mutations may also arise by the errors in DNA replication. These type of mutations are called spontaneous mutations. Many of the mutations harm cells, causing diseases and cancers. Since mutagens modify the DNA sequence, they may cause nucleotide substitutions, insertions, deletions as well as chromosomal instability such as translocations and inversions. The mutagens that cause chromosomal instability are called clastogens. Some mutagens can change the number of chromosomes in a cell.
Physical substances such as radioactive elements, X-rays, and ultraviolet radiation can cause mutations. The chemicals that interact with DNA such as reactive oxygen species, deaminating agents, sodium azide, and benzene also cause mutations. Intercalating agents such as ethidium bromide and metals such as nickel, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium are also mutagenic. Biological agents such as transposon, virus, and bacteria also cause mutations. A mutation caused by UV is shown in figure 1.
What is a Carcinogen
Any physical, chemical or biological substance, which can cause or promote cancer is referred to as a carcinogen. Five categories of cancer forming agents can be identified. They are the tobacco smoke, pathogens, radiation, environmental hazard, and the diet. Smokers and victim of secondhand smoke can easily be subjected to cancers. Smoking cause cancers in lungs, respiratory tract, and the esophagus. Smoking indirectly causes cancers in the stomach, kidney, and the liver. Air, water, and soil pollution also cause cancers in bladder and lungs. Other cancer forming agents and examples are shown in table 1.
Examples of Carcinogens
Cancer forming agent
Bacteria, Viruses (Hepatitis B and C, HPV, and EBV)
X-Ray and UV radiation
Air, water, and soil pollution
Genetically modified food and chemical toxins
Similarities Between Mutagen and Carcinogen
- Mutagen and carcinogen cause changes in the cell division and the regular functioning of cells.
- Both mutagens and carcinogens can be a physical, chemical or biological factor.
Difference Between Mutagen and Carcinogen
Mutagen: A biological, physical or chemical agent that causes a permanent change in the genetic material of an organism is referred to as a mutagen.
Carcinogen: A substance that can cause cancers are referred to as a carcinogen.
Mutagen: Mutagen causes changes in the genetic information of an organism.
Carcinogen: Carcinogen causes or promotes cancers.
Mutagen: Most mutagens are carcinogens.
Carcinogen: Not all carcinogens are mutagens.
Mutagen: Radioactive elements, X-rays, ultraviolet radiation, chemicals, intercalating agents, metals, transposon, virus, and bacteria can cause mutations.
Carcinogen: Smoking, pathogens, radiation, environmental hazard, and diet can cause cancers.
Mutagen: Mutagens result in changes in regular cell functioning and cancers.
Carcinogen: Carcinogens result in the formation of tumors or cancers.
Mutagen and carcinogen are two agents that cause changes in regular cell functioning and cell division. Mutagens cause changes in the genetic information of an organism. These changes may sometimes cause cancers. Carcinogens cause cancers through the formation of tumors. Both mutagens and carcinogens can be physical, chemical, or biological factors. The main difference between mutagen and carcinogen is the effect of each agent on organisms.
1. “Types of Mutagens: Chemical and Physical.” Biology Discussion. N.p., 28 Nov. 2016. Web. . 10 Aug. 2017.
2. “What Are Cancer-Causing Carcinogens?” The Truth About Cancer. N.p., 26 May 2017. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.
1.” DNA UV mutation” By NASA/David Herring – NASA, , Public Domain) via
2. “CIGARETTE” by Fried Dough (Public Domain) via