Between 2007 and 2009, the death rate for bladder cancer in South Yorkshire was over 50 per cent higher than the national average. The question is: why should that be? Historically bladder cancer was one of the first cancers shown to have a link to industry. It became a prescribed disease in 1953.

Despite the risk factors for bladder cancer being widely known for some time, new research is being undertaken in South Yorkshire by a consultant urologist, Mr James Catto to investigate a possible link to the steel industry. Over two thousand hospital patients will be involved in this research, the largest of its kind in the world. Mr Catto will be speaking about his research at Kennedys’ Northern Disease Conference at our Sheffield office on 10 November 2011.

The research has been welcomed by South Yorkshire Coroner, Christopher Dorries, who has commented that “anything that raises the profile, and assists pathologists to determine whether a bladder cancer arises from an industrial cause or not, has to be welcomed.”

Risk factors

The two main risk factors for bladder cancer are smoking and exposure to chemicals, usually during employment:

  • Smoking is of course a preventable risk factor, which is said to account for two thirds of bladder cancers in men and a third in women. A risk also remains for ex-smokers. It must be noted that the incidence of smoking in South Yorkshire is no higher than in other areas of the country, so this cannot account for the increased prevalence of bladder cancers.
  • Chemicals have been known as a risk factor since the 1950s. Aromatic amines were widely used in the manufacture of dyes for paints, plastics, hair dyes, drugs, pesticides and also in the rubber industry. Polycrylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) (which are by-products of the combustion process in industries involving smelting) and handling crude oil and carbon are also linked to bladder cancer. There is an increase in risk of around 30 per cent with such exposure. Other occupations have also been linked with bladder cancer, namely metal casters, blacksmiths, mechanics, leather workers, miners and painters, all with an increased risk of less than 30 per cent.

There are of course other factors to take into account to determine the potential cause of the cancer. Repeated bladder infections, bladder stones, a family history of the condition, Type II diabetes and poor diet are all known risk factors.

Comment

As most of the chemicals known to cause a risk of bladder cancer have been banned in the UK for 20 years, and bladder cancer having a long latency period of at least 25 years, these cases are often difficult to investigate. They require a detailed knowledge of the industry and condition to raise any potential defence in this highly specialised area.

Kennedys will be closely monitoring the research being undertaken by Mr Catto and will be working with the steel industry in this regard. Will known risk chemicals be shown to have been used in the steel industry, or will a new cause of bladder cancer be raised? Only time will tell.

What is clear is that, even at this early stage, claimants’ solicitors are waiting in the wings in the hope of securing a new group of litigants.