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Exposure to PFAS Has Been Shown to Significantly Increase the Risk for Bladder Cancer

By Treven Pyles

Posted on December 04th, 2019

Because so many people are now exposed to PFAS, it is critical to understand how these chemicals may be contributing to so many serious health issues. According to recent studies, the post-exposure effects of PFAS could be associated with changes to the cells in bladder tissue, which can ultimately lead to bladder cancer.

Exposure to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been linked to a number of health concerns, including:

Bladder cancer, the fourth most common cancer in men, is expected to affect about 80,470 new U.S. patients in 2019, 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 moving them into the bladder. When people ingest PFAS by eating or drinking food or water that contains fluorinated substances, 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 diagnostic 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 the 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. In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched a comprehensive cancer study of 30,000 firefighters in order to better understand the potential link between firefighting and cancer. Among the results, NIOSH found that "firefighters under 65 years of age had more bladder and prostate cancers than expected."

Elevated PFAS Levels Detected in Drinking Water and Groundwater at Military Facilities

Due to their biomagnification potential, PFAS chemicals pose a risk to groundwater and surface water quality, but they are also highly persistent, highly mobile, and accumulate in organisms faster than they are excreted.

The artificial compounds have seeped into the groundwater underneath nearly two dozen military bases as a result of their former use in firefighting foam. Military facilities used by the Navy and Air Force are some of the potential contributors of PFAS releases into the air, soil, and water. A DoD environmental investigation tested over 2.600 water sources 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

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.

If You Have Been Diagnosed with Bladder Cancer You May Be Entitled to Benefits

If you have multiple risk factors for bladder cancer, taking action early can help you protect your health. If you notice any concerning symptoms, it's important to get them checked by your GP. The earlier bladder cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be cured. Exposure to certain chemicals including PFAS has been scientifically demonstrated to significantly increase the risk for bladder cancer. If you are diagnosed with bladder cancer, you may be eligible for compensation or financial assistance. It is advisable to seek advice quickly so that you receive the monetary compensation you are entitled to. Schedule a free consultation now with our dedicated attorneys at Environmental Litigation Group.