Prostate cancer is the most common malignant disease occurring among firefighters
Prostate cancer occurs in the prostate, a walnut-shaped gland just below the urinary bladder that is responsible for producing the seminal fluid which transports sperm. It is suspected that when enough damage occurs to its cells' DNA, these cease their normal function and start dividing uncontrollably into a tumor.
Prostate tumors tend to grow slowly and sometimes might not even require treatment, but aggressive forms of this cancer are by no means a rare occurrence.
The most harmful forms of PFAS, namely PFOA and PFOS which have been used for years as ingredients in firefighting foams, are known to accumulate in the body to very high concentrations. While some 50% of PFAS gets stored in the blood, liver, and kidneys, the rest can virtually affect any tissue of the body, including the prostate and bladder.
Most men with early prostate cancer don't have any warning signs or symptoms. If cancer has spread outside of the prostate gland, symptoms may include:
- blood in urine
- blood in the seminal fluid
- discomfort in the pelvic area
- bone pain
- unexplained weight loss
- change in bowel habits
Recently, the Michigan PFAS Science Advisory Panel found that a person exposed to the currently established safety limit for PFOA/PFOS of 70 parts per trillion would have a blood serum level of PFAS in the same range as the blood serum levels where adverse health outcomes have been observed in human studies. If you are concerned and choose to have your blood tested for PFAS, the test results will tell you how much of each PFAS is in your blood.
Recent study establishes significant connection between PFAS and prostate cancer
A longitudinal study that tested Kent County, MI residents who have been exposed to PFAS over three five-year increments found that the rate for prostate cancer was considerably higher in this cohort than in the general population.
Similar assessments of contaminated populations from around the country are currently being undertaken and most specialists are inclined to believe that their results will corroborate the Michigan team's findings.
Due to the concern raised by some scientific studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that there is "suggestive evidence for carcinogenic potential" for PFOA in humans. Upon reviewing the available scientific literature on PFAS, a University research panel concluded: "the more we seem to know about these chemicals, the more dangerous they appear to be".
High rate of prostate cancer among firefighters exposed to PFOA & PFOS
Negative health outcomes related to PFAS exposure has become a significant concern for service members and veterans. More recent studies show that firefighters are at a 28% greater risk to develop prostate cancer compared to the general population.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the Australian University, as well as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found enough corroborating evidence to mention PFAS as possible contributors to prostate cancers in their respective reports on the potentially harmful effects of these substances.
AFFF was often used to fight fires but also for training purposes. In addition, the highly efficient type of fire suppressant agent was washed from fire trucks in fire stations bays after responding to fires.
Hundreds of military installations identified to have PFAS contamination
There are various routes through which PFAS chemicals may enter your urinary system. People exposed to the compounds in question are at risk of developing cancer because these chemicals get into the blood through the gastrointestinal wall and eventually into the urinary tract, and accumulation of perfluoroalkyl substances in human tissues leads to prostate cancer.
For decades, the Department of Defense (DoD) has been using AFFF, despite warnings regarding its toxicity. Not long ago, the DoD has admitted that elevated levels of highly fluorinated chemicals were detected when the soil at military sites was initially screened for PFAS.
At this moment, about 206 military sites have been identified with PFAS contamination levels at hundreds of times the amount considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency, although no formal national standard has been created. As the investigation continues, there are high chances of these numbers to grow. Amongst the sites that were tested, there were various branches of the military identified:
- Navy/Marine Corps
- Air Force
- Defense Logistics Agency
Claim eligibility in prostate cancer and possible misdiagnosis
Prostate cancer has a latency of 15 years when the cause is AFFF exposure, but it can be shorter for aggressive cancer types. Unfortunately, prostate cancer is not always diagnosed soon enough, or it is misdiagnosed as other noncancerous conditions of the prostate:
- benign prostatic hyperplasia
- chronic pelvic pain syndrome
- acute or chronic bacterial prostatitis
These conditions are quite common and can affect men of all ages. Half of the men who were told they had a less serious condition, in fact, had more serious cancer. Misdiagnosis or delayed treatment of prostate cancer is especially tragic because it typically responds well to early treatment.
If you are concerned about any symptoms or a change in symptoms, be sure to talk with your healthcare team. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you have been experiencing the symptoms, in addition to general occupational history questions. Blood tests for PFAS may provide information on current PFAS serum levels and might be needed by your primary care providers and/or urologists to establish potential links between exposure levels and prostate cancer.