Prostate cancer: Dr Hilary outlines signs and symptoms
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Research increasingly suggests that your risk of cancer is modifiable. While the obvious culprits that can lay the harmful path to the deadly condition include smoking and alcohol, new research surprisingly proposes that water could also be to blame. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “getting enough water every day is important for your health”. But the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found the ingestion of nitrate over the course of a person’s adult life through the consumption of tap and bottled water could be a risk factor for prostate cancer. Fortunately, a healthy diet could offer a helping hand.
The aim of the study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) was to assess whether there was a link between the ingestion of waterborne nitrate and trihalomethanes (THMs) and the risk of prostate cancer.
Nitrate and THMs are two of the most common contaminants in drinking water.
Nitrate often comes from agricultural fertilisers and manure from intensive livestock farming by being washed into aquifers and rivers through rainfall.
Furthermore, THMs are byproducts of water disinfection – chemical compounds formed after drinking water is disinfected, usually with chlorine.
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While for nitrate the only route of entry is ingestion, THMs can also be inhaled and absorbed through the skin while showering, swimming in pools or washing dishes.
Long-term exposure to THMs has been previously associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, but evidence has remained very limited.
This study evaluated the possible link by looking at 697 men with prostate cancer in Spanish hospitals between 2008 and 2013, including 97 aggressive tumours.
The research team also included a control group made up of 927 men aged 38 to 85 years who had not been diagnosed with cancer at the time of the study.
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The researchers estimated the average exposure to these chemicals based on where the participants had lived and the type of water they had drunk throughout their lives.
Worryingly, the findings showed that the higher the nitrate intake, the greater the association with prostate cancer.
Participants with higher waterborne nitrate ingestion, which was marked as a lifetime average of more than 14 mg per day, were 1.6 times more likely to develop low-grade or medium-grade prostate cancer and nearly three times more likely to develop an aggressive prostate tumour.
Carolina Donat-Vargas, the lead author of the study, said: “The risks associated with waterborne nitrate ingestion are already observed in people who consume water with nitrate levels below the maximum level allowed by European directives, which is 50 mg of nitrate per litre of water.”
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While these results highlight a correlation between water and prostate cancer, they don’t prove a cause.
“Being exposed to nitrates through drinking water does not mean that you are going to develop prostate cancer,” said Donat-Vargas.
Furthermore, the study authors noted that this research simply provides the first evidence of the association, which will need to be confirmed through further research.
The good news is that the scientists found that eating plenty of fibre, fruit, vegetables and vitamin C could reduce the negative effects of nitrate in drinking water.
During the study, the participants also had to fill out a food frequency questionnaire, which provided individual dietary information.
The study noticed an association between ingested nitrate and prostate cancer were only observed in men with lower intakes of fibre, fruits, vegetables and vitamin C.
Donat-Vargas said: “Antioxidants, vitamins and polyphenols in fruits and vegetables may inhibit the formation of nitrosamines – compounds with carcinogenic potential – in the stomach.
“Moreover, vitamin C has shown significant anti-tumour activity. And fibre, for its part, benefits the intestinal bacteria, which protect against food-derived toxicants, including nitrosamines.”
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