Study finds nitrates increase bladder cancer risk.

Position:EH Update

Nitrate in drinking water is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, according to a University of Iowa (UI) study that looked at cancer incidence among nearly 22,000 Iowa women.

The study results suggest that even low-level exposure to nitrates over many years could increase certain types of cancer, said Peter Weyer, associate director of the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) and one of the lead authors. The study was published in the May 2001 issue of the journal Epidemiology.

"The positive association we found between nitrate contamination in drinking water and bladder cancer is consistent with some previous data. However, this is something that warrants follow-up research," said Weyer, who co-authored the article with James R. Cerhan, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator with the department of health sciences research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The researchers assessed nitrate exposure from drinking water in 21,977 women who were participants in the Iowa Women's Health Study. The women were between 55 and 69 years of age in 1986 (at the start of the study). They resided in a total of 400 Iowa communities and had used the same drinking-water supply for more than 10 years. Approximately 16,500 of the women received their water from municipal water supplies; the remaining women used private wells.

No individual water consumption data were available, so the researchers assigned each woman an average level of exposure to nitrate. The assigned levels were based on data collected between 1955 to 1988 on nitrate levels in the community water supply each woman used. No nitrate data were available for women who used private wells.

The researchers used cancer incidence data from the Iowa Cancer Registry for 1986 to 1998 and adjusted for factors such as smoking and nitrate in the diet. They found a greater risk for bladder cancer as the nitrate levels in the community water...

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