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Bladder Cancer and the Environment

Bladder cancer is more common among older persons, men, and white persons.

It is common for bladder cancer to occur more than once in a person. Incidence rates of bladder cancer vary geographically with higher rates in the northeastern United States. Known risk factors such as smoking and workplace exposures do not explain the geographic variations.

The relationship between bladder cancer and drinking water contamination has been researched extensively. High levels of arsenic in drinking water have been well-established as causing cancer (carcinogenic).

Exposure and Risk

Smoking is the greatest risk factor associated with bladder cancer. Persons who smoke have more than twice the risk for bladder cancer than non-smokers. Research indicates that smoking may cause about 30% of bladder cancers among women and 50% among men.

Workplace exposures may also increase the risk for bladder cancer. Studies show that workers in the trucking, dye, rubber, textile, leather, and chemical industries have a higher risk for bladder cancer. An estimated 25% of all bladder cancers may be associated with workplace exposures.

A man lighting a cigaretteExposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer. However, scientists are not sure of the effects of exposure to low-to-moderate arsenic levels in drinking water. Long-term exposure to disinfection byproducts in drinking water may also cause a small increase in the risk for bladder cancer. Public water suppliers disinfect their water to kill viruses and bacteria. Disinfection by-products are a family of chemicals formed when drinking water disinfectants react with naturally occurring organic matter and other substances in the source water.


Not smoking is the most important behavior to reduce bladder-cancer risk. The risk for bladder cancer among smokers who quit smoking eventually returns to normal. Workplace exposures may also increase the risk for bladder cancer. Workers in high risk jobs should follow appropriate health and safety rules, like wearing protective equipment.


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