PFAS found in the blood of firefighters may increase health risks such as bladder cancer
Bladder cancer, the fourth most common cancer in men, is expected to claim the lives of 17,100 patients by the end of 2022, according to the American Cancer Society's most recent estimates.
Many risk factors make a person more likely to develop bladder cancer, including age, gender, and genetics. Based on a growing body of research, exposure to harmful chemicals can also put people at risk for bladder cancer. Knowing and understanding the factors that put you at risk allows you to take precautions and protect your health.
PFOA and PFOS, the cancer-causing chemicals, detectable in the human urine
The most investigated man-made chemicals in the group of per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFCs) and the most prevalent emerging contaminants include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The substances are known as "persistent organic pollutants" or "forever chemicals" because they are persistent and accumulative. PFAS can be found in blood, and at much lower levels in breast milk and in umbilical cord blood. Short-chain PFAS can be also detected in human urine.
PFAS, the synthetically produced chemicals can enter ecosystems and move up food chains, accumulating in animal and human tissue. The main role of the kidneys is to filter harmful chemicals from the bloodstream and move them into the bladder. When people are exposed to PFAS, these chemicals pass into their bloodstream and are filtered by the kidneys into their urine. The bladder is repeatedly exposed to these hazardous substances, as it acts as a store for urine. This can cause changes to the cells in bladder tissue, which can ultimately lead to bladder cancer.
At the moment, there are no reliable screening programs available for the early detection of bladder cancer. The diagnosis is usually made based on clinical signs and patient-reported symptoms. The early stages of bladder cancer cause painless blood in the urine.
Other symptoms are often a signal of more advanced disease, such as:
- flank pain caused by ureteral obstruction
- an inability to urinate
- lower back pain on one side of the body
- loss of appetite
- overwhelming fatigue
- swelling in the feet
- bone pain
If bladder cancer is suspected, a physician will recommend appropriate diagnostic testing, which may include imaging, urine cytology, a cystoscopy, or a biopsy.
General occupational history might be required by your doctor for subject-specific information, and also blood tests to estimate current PFAS serum levels might be needed to establish potential links between exposure levels and bladder cancer. If bladder cancer is diagnosed, a radical cystectomy may be the optimal treatment for aggressive or recurrent disease.
Health concerns regarding PFAS exposure through firefighter protective gear
The toxic chemicals were a key ingredient in firefighting foams used for training exercises on military bases. A new study confirms high PFAS blood levels in firefighters using foams made with fluorinated chemicals.
Also, firefighters across the country may be facing an increased risk when it comes to cancer, with PFAS compounds that are used as an agent in their turnout gear. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched a comprehensive cancer study in 2010 which included 30,000 firefighters found that "firefighters under 65 years of age had more bladder and prostate cancers than expected."
PFAS exposure at military facilities
Due to their biomagnification potential, PFAS chemicals pose an environmental risk, but they are also highly persistent, highly mobile, and accumulate in organisms faster than they are excreted.
Military facilities used by the Navy and Air Force are some of the potential contributors of PFAS releases into the environment. A DoD environmental investigation tested over 2.600 public and private wells in and around military bases and found more than 60% of these to be contaminated with PFOS and PFOA chemicals.
Bladder cancer misdiagnosis can delay effective treatment also can affect the amount of compensation you can recover
When it is caused by AFFF exposure, bladder cancer has a latency of 4 years. Because of the similarity of symptoms, oftentimes, bladder cancer is mistaken for certain less severe conditions, such as:
- interstitial cystitis
- bladder papilloma
- kidney stone
- bladder stone
- overactive bladder
- urinary tract infection
If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions and also exposed to PFAS during your military service, ask for a second opinion to make sure you don't have bladder cancer instead. Patients often do not see the doctor for their symptoms until the pain is unbearable, delaying the diagnosis and making treatment more difficult. Most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies. A blood test for PFAS can tell you what your levels are at the time the blood was drawn. If you need to know the amount of PFAS in your blood, talk to your doctor. Laboratories offer PFAS blood testing to individuals through their healthcare providers.