Water — it’s essential for life. However, a recent study has shown that chemicals in the water we drink, or swim or bathe in could be putting us at a greater risk of a serious disease: bladder cancer.
The bladder is an organ that doesn’t get a lot of credit. It’s basically a storage tank for the waste product secreted by the kidneys — urine. When full, the bladder pushes the urine outside the body via the urethra, which is a tube that runs through the genitals. Without the bladder, the body can’t excrete toxins and waste.
Various forms of cancer can develop in the bladder, with the most common being “transitional cell carcinoma.” Transitional cells, which constitute part of the bladder wall lining, are the starting point for the disease 90% of the time. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in 2007, there were 67,160 new cases of bladder cancer and 13,750 fatalities due to the disease. It rates among the top 10 most common cancers for both men and women. Risk factors for bladder cancer include tobacco use, age, parasitic infections, and sex (men are two or three times more likely to develop this disease). Now we can add water exposure to the list.
Chlorine is a fairly powerful chemical that is used to disinfect and purify drinking water and water in recreational swimming areas. Basically, it keeps us safe from many nasty bugs and diseases. However, in its condensed form, this stuff is considered poisonous. Many have theorized that chlorinated water could have some kind of causal role in bladder cancer, but, until now, there has been no proof.
Spanish researchers wanted to see if exposure to “trihalomethanes,” (THMs) organic by-products of water treatment with chlorine, could have an effect on a person’s likelihood of developing bladder cancer. Note that THMs can enter the body in one of three ways: 1) through drinking water or swallowing it while swimming; 2) through inhaling it during exposure; or 3) by absorbing it through the skin while showering, taking a bath, or swimming.
From 1998 to 2001, the research team collected lifelong water-related information on 1,219 people with bladder cancer and 1,272 people without the disease. The levels of THM in the various municipalities where the subjects lived were also tested.
The study found that people who lived in areas where the water rated an average THM level of 49 micrograms (mcg) per liter were twice as likely to develop bladder cancer than people in areas where the levels were below eight mcg/liter were. An interesting finding was that drinking chlorinated water was less risky than bathing or swimming in it.
Specifically, chlorinated water drinkers were 35% more likely to develop bladder cancer than people who didn’t drink the treated water, while people who swam in swimming pools were at an increased risk of 57%. This could be because, when water is ingested, the liver filters out some of the dangerous toxins.
The findings of this study are scary, but note that they do need to be backed up by further research. It’s definitely not a good idea to stop drinking water. Look into purchasing a good water-filtration device for your home. It might also be a good idea to write your local politicians and water department to see what’s being done to look into this issue.