Although cancer of the bladder is not as well-known as some other types, it is surprisingly common. Over ten thousand cases are diagnosed each year in the UK. However, it is much higher is Spain, where there are over twenty thousand cases each year. Spanish men at particularly prone to getting this cancer, with seven times more men being diagnosed with it than women. To help find out why there is so much bladder cancer in Spain, AICR is funding a study by Dr Nuria Malats at the Spanish National Cancer Research centre in Madrid.
We already understand something about the cause or causes of this cancer. Smoking causes up to half of all cases of bladder cancer, but this does not explain why it is so common in Spain, particularly amongst men. Dr Malats is examining the possibility that certain minerals in our diet may be responsible.
"There is some evidence that long-term exposure to low levels of some metals in the diet may be linked to cancer." Dr Malats explained, "For example, tiny amounts of cadmium and lead in the drinking water, too low to normally cause any problems, have been linked to higher rates of bladder cancer. There is other evidence which suggest that minute levels of arsenic have a similar effect, particularly amongst smokers."
Dr Malats wil be comparing the levels of these metals in toenail samples from Spanish bladder cancer patients and normal people. Toenail clippings are an excellent way to determine the levels of trace metals that a person has been exposed to. To understand more about the role these metals may play in bladder cancer is Spain, she will also be analysing a similar set of toenail clippings from the USA, representing a similar large group of bladder cancer patients and similar normal people.
The analysis of all these samples will tell us what role, if any, exposure to these metals plays in the risk of bladder cancer in Spain and perhaps tell us why Spanish men in particular are so likely to get this particular cancer.