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Mariam Khan/MEDILL

South Asian treat may be silent killer

by Mariam Khan
Feb 26, 2013


Mariam Khan/MEDILL

Areca nuts are carcinogenic, according to recent data.


Mariam Khan/MEDILL

A warning label on areca nut packaging.


Mariam Khan/MEDILL

A betel leaf.

South Asians have been seeing an alarming rise in oral cancer diagnoses over the past several years, and it could be due to a psychoactive stimulant known as “paan.” Paan is a green leaf stuffed with rose-flavored nuts and coconut shavings (and sometimes tobacco). People often eat it as a “mouth freshener” or as a sweet treat after dinner. But the betel leaf and areca nut inside are carcinogenic, and they're available at almost any Indian grocery in Chicago. Oral cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in India, and medical professionals in Chicago's South Asian community say it's also on the rise here.