Firefighters and Bladder Cancer

Why are firefighters at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer?

Exposure to carcinogens in fires and in other situations puts firefighters and other first responders at an elevated risk of bladder cancer.

The exact causes remain unknown, but risk factors for contracting bladder cancer include exposure to carcinogens in the environment.  Firefighters, other first responders, and workers in the rubber, chemical and leather industries are at risk, as are hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, painters, textile workers.

What did the International Association of Fire Fighters say?

In July 2022, the International Association of Fire Fighters highlighted an article by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) In it, the authors has re-evaluated firefighting and classified fire fighter occupational exposure as a group 1 carcinogen, stating there is sufficient evidence for cancer in humans.

The classification marks a dramatic shift in IARC’s position on fire fighter occupational cancer. This designation will likely have a major impact on the fight against cancer in the fire service, from ongoing medical research to presumptive laws.

Many firefighters and other first responders have prolonged exposure to environmental chemicals and pollutants, things that can increase a person’s risk for bladder cancer.  According to the American Urological Association:

It is well known that prolonged exposure to certain environmental pollutants and chemicals puts humans at a major risk for developing bladder cancer. As the body absorbs carcinogenic chemicals, such as cigarette smoke, the chemicals are transferred to the blood, filtered out by the kidneys and expelled from the body through the urine. Greater concentrations of chemicals in the urine can damage the endothelial lining of the bladder and increase a patient’s odds of developing transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). Firefighters, who are regularly exposed to smoke and chemical fumes, may be at a higher risk for developing the disease than other groups.

Read a personal story: “Tony Stefani: A Firefighter’s Fight

What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is the nation’s seventh most common form of cancer with more than 81,000 new cases and over 17,000 deaths each year.  Even though it is very common, it is one form of cancer that most people know very little about.  Bladder cancer, also referred to as urothelial carcinoma, begins when the cells in the lining of the bladder start to grow out of control.  It may also occur anywhere in the urethra, renal pelvis and ureters.

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

The most common symptom is blood in the urine. Other symptoms include irritation when urinating, urgency, and frequency of urination.  These are also common symptoms of a urinary tract infection.  If you have any of these symptoms, go see your doctor.

What is the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network?

The Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, or BCAN, was founded in 2005 and is the only national advocacy organization devoted to advancing bladder cancer research and supporting those impacted by the disease.

Each year, BCAN provides thousands of patients, caregivers and the medical community with the educational resources and support services they need to navigate their bladder cancer journey. BCAN works collaboratively with the medical and research professionals who are dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer and empowers the patient community by allowing them to share experiences with others, and to participate in building awareness of the need for a cure.