Where you work may increase your risk of cancer

WEIGHING IN

September 18, 1990|By Ronnie Teich | Ronnie Teich,Ms. Teich is a Baltimore area writer.

My mother thinks I have a sixth sense when it comes to calling her. It happened most recently when I called home from work one afternoon recently.

The news from her end was that my father was in the hospital. The first thought that ran through my mind was that he had another job-related injury as had occurred in the past. His only recent hospitalizations had been for cataracts and cellulitis, and an infection from a cut or insect bite on his foot -- not very serious. Here was a 68-year-old man who didn't look his age, swam, went to the gym and passed a thorough physical examination a few months ago.

But what he had this time was very serious indeed. My father had bladder cancer.

How could this be, I wondered. The answer came when I requested information from the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service (the toll-free number is 800-422-6237).

What I soon started to read disturbed me greatly, since it now was pertaining to my father. Then I decided I had to get the word out about this form of cancer that sneaks in from the back door.

With us, we have hope, because the cancer is in the early stages. And the chances of recovery from a more advanced state are improving as researchers continue to look for better ways to treat this disease.

Each year more than 47,000 Americans will find out they have bladder cancer, and you don't have to wait till the symptoms appear to find out if you have this disease. Just know that there are two warning signs: The symptoms of bladder cancer (as with my father), are blood in the urine, possible pain during urination, and the need to urinate often or urgently. Blood in the urine can also be associated with other, non-cancerous problems, however.

Since my dad had gone to work that morning and passed blood in his urine, he went straight to the hospital and was admitted. Three days later he had surgery.

The possible causes of his bladder cancer are what disturbed me the most. Smoking is a major risk factor, the Cancer Information Service (CIS) says. Cigarette smokers have a risk of developing bladder cancer that is two to three times higher than that of nonsmokers.

Your occupation can also be a risk factor because of exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, according to the CIS. These occupations include jobs in the rubber, chemical and leather industries. Dye makers, hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, printers, painters, textile workers and even truck drivers are also included.

It is hard to tell a pack-a-day smoker who has been at it for over 50 years to quit without becoming a daily nag. Had I known that occupation plays a big part in bladder cancer, I certainly would have been more verbal in trying to get my father to quit.

I see what this diagnosis is doing to my family.

My mother who is the principal care taker, is a nervous wreck, which is to be expected. My dad, besides being nervous, is also depressed, again a normal reaction when you are told you have cancer. We have, as a family, a long road ahead of us.

Besides test upon test, he will be getting chemotherapy, radiation and possibly the removal of his bladder. Then he will have a bag for the removal of his urine.

The point I want to stress again is this: If you smoke and have a high-risk occupation, get tested now! Don't wait for the symptoms. You just may be a family that won't have to be in the position our family is in now.

By all means, quit smoking if you can't change your job (lower the risks at all costs). You have the rest of your life to share with those around you who love and support you.*

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