In the discussion of cancer prevention, one overlooked yet important factor is water. We’ve heard that limiting alcohol and tobacco intake can help reduce the risk of cancer. Common sense will tell you that too much exposure to sunlight, obesity, and unhealthy sexual activity are potential contributing factors. And everyone knows that regular physical exercise and a balanced diet are some of the most robust risk reduction measures.

But are those all the tools in our arsenal?

We rarely bring up water in this discussion and its role in helping to reduce cancer, especially bladder cancer. Often times, we miss a very important question: How much do we expose ourselves to bladder cancer by not consuming sufficient amounts of  water?

Studies conducted on the subject shed light on the big role that drinking enough clean water plays in helping reduce the risk.

Drinking enough fluids has been seen to reduce the risk

Research on the effects of fluids on bladder cancer has found that the greater the intake of fluids, the lower the risk of cancer. The change is even more significant if the fluid in question is water.

A decade-long study involving almost 48,000 participants found that there’s a significant relationship between the total amount of fluid intake and risk of bladder cancer. In the study, fluid intake was the only continuous variable and groups of participants organized into different levels of fluid intake. The researchers found that a mere 240 ml increase in daily fluid intake resulted in up to 7% decrease in the risk of bladder cancer.

When compared, participants in the category with the highest amount of fluid intake ended up with up to 49% lower risk of blood cancer than those with the lowest daily fluid intake.

So, how did it happen?

Highly concentrated urine and infrequent urination expose the lining of the urinary tract to carcinogens. This hastens the development of cancer-causing cells. To support this hypothesis, a test was done on dogs by exposing them to known carcinogens. Reducing the voiding frequency increased the level of DNA adducts in the urothelial. DNA adducts are DNA segments that are bound to cancer-causing chemicals. A DNA adduct could be the foundation for a cancerous cell, a process known as carcinogenesis. Thus, the more the DNA adducts, the higher the risk of bladder cancer.

Staying hydrated helps you to not only dilute your urine but also to increase the frequency of urination, preventing the buildup of these cancer-causing cells.

The water has to be clean

A leading cause of bladder cancer is the exposure to heavy metals and other contaminants. These can be found in dirty water. Therefore, as much as you need to drink lots of water, you’ll also want to take steps to ensure that the water is safe.

One of the most common contaminants in water linked to bladder cancer is arsenic. This is a metalloid naturally occurring in air, water and soil and can be found in either organic or inorganic states.

While the organic form is considered non-toxic, the inorganic form is considered highly toxic. Different regions of the world have different concentrations of arsenic. For instance, in countries like India, China, Bangladesh and Hungary, arsenic is highly concentrated in the surface soil and the groundwater.

Research has shown a strong correlation between the arsenic concentration in drinking water and bladder cancer. Higher concentrations of arsenic result in greater risk for cancer, especially if the amount of arsenic exceeds 300 µg. For smokers, even concentrations as low as 200 microgram (µg)––which present no significant risk in other groups of people––can significantly increase the risk of bladder cancer.

The good news is that generally, drinking water has very low concentrations of arsenic. It may be important to consider other potential sources of arsenic such as in the air you breathe, tobacco, food and occupational hazards.

But arsenic isn’t the only carcinogen found in drinking water. Disinfection byproducts, selenium and zinc are other important factors to look out for. High concentration of nitrates in drinking water can increase the risk of bladder cancer. These concentrations (nitrates and arsenic) are usually regulated by cities and municipal townships but may occasionally be found in dangerous levels in tap water. People who live in rural areas and get their water from a private well are at a higher risk of bladder cancer. To prevent this, use water filtration systems.

Other hazardous chemicals that may find their way into water and water bodies include chemicals found in rubber, dye, leather, textile products and paint manufacturing plants.

At home, take measures to ensure that everyone is drinking safe water and any other fluids, including those found in food. Also, reduce water wastage and reuse whenever possible. Manufacturers should also make sure that they don’t release byproducts into water sources as well as limiting the amount of water used in their processes.

As we expect 1 billion more mouths to feed by 2025 and 1.8 billion people living with “absolute water scarcity”, the time for water conservation is now.  Your bladder will thank you.