1,300 cases of bladder cancer caused by a chemical found in drinking water – what you need to know

1,300 cases of bladder cancer caused by a chemical found in drinking water – what you need to know
The study revealed the UK was one of nine countries with dangerous levels of the chemical (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study has revealed that 9.2 per cent of bladder cancer cases in the UK are caused by a chemical found in tap water.

The UK is one of nine countries in the EU that was found to exceed the ‘safe limit’ of the chemical.

What is the chemical?

The chemical is known as trihalomethanes (THMs) and is a byproduct of a disinfectant in water.

Researchers have found that it’s responsible for 1,356 bladder cancer diagnoses per year in the UK.

Across Europe, it causes just under five per cent of the total cases for the continent.

The large-scale study was undertaken by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

Manolis Kogevinas, ISGlobal researcher, said: “Over the past 20 years, major efforts have been made to reduce THM levels.

“However, the current levels could still lead to a considerable bladder cancer burden, which could be prevented by optimising water treatment, disinfection and distribution practices.”

Dangerous drinking water?

The study looked at data from 26 European Union countries, excluding Bulgaria and Romania, and found that there were considerable differences between countries.

The study said: “The average level of THMs in drinking water in all countries was well below the maximum permissible limit in the EU, but the maximum reported concentrations did exceed the limit in nine countries.”

These countries are:

  • Cyprus
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

Symptoms to look out for

The NHS states that “blood in your urine is the most common symptoms of bladder cancer”.

The NHS explains that you might notice streaks of blood in your urine, or the blood might turn your urine brown – however, this might not always be noticeable and it can come and go.

Less common signs of bladder cancer include:

  • The need to urinate more frequently than usual
  • Sudden need to pee
  • A burning sensation when passing urine

If the bladder cancer reaches an advanced stage and begins spreading, symptoms may include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Bone pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Swelling of the legs

When to see the doctor

If you have ever noticed blood in your urine – even if it comes and goes – you should visit your GP so that the cause can be investigated.

Having blood in your pee isn’t a surefire indicator of bladder cancer, and there are other, more common causes, such as:

  • A urinary tract infection, like cystitis
  • A kidney infection
  • Kidney stones
  • Urethritis
  • An enlarged prostate gland in men

If you have symptoms such as blood in your urine, your doctor might ask you about your family history and whether you’ve been exposed to possible triggers of bladder cancer, such as smoking.

Your GP may request a urine sample so that it can be tested. Additionally, you may have a rectum or vagina examination, as bladder cancer can sometimes cause a noticeable lump that presses against these areas.