TWO thousand hospital patients in Sheffield are to be studied for possible links between cancer-causing chemicals and South Yorkshire’s steel industry.
The study at The University of Sheffield will focus on bladder cancer - a disease caused primarily by smoking and also exposure to workplace chemicals.
More people than average have been found to die from the condition in Rotherham, Doncaster and particularly Barnsley - where between 2007 and 2009 the death rate from the disease was 50 per cent higher than the national average.
Experts believe cases could be linked to the metal industry, which employed four in 10 men in South Yorkshire as recently as 40 years ago.
The findings could lead to possible compensation payouts for victims, and new laws to protect workers.
A group of 2,000 patients treated for the illness at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield will be surveyed for their occupational histories in a project led by researcher James Catto.
Among them will be former draughtsman Dennis Bradnum, from Kiveton Park.
The 72-year-old, who was first diagnosed with bladder cancer eight years ago, said: “It will certainly be interesting to find out more about any link there might be with my history - I would feel happy to understand the illness further.”
Mr Catto, who will head the three-year investigation funded by the charity Yorkshire Cancer Research, said he was looking forward to investigating the “common and serious problem” that exists in South Yorkshire.
“The trend for smoking is the same in most parts of the country so we believe there is an occupational factor,” he said.
“During our investigation we will treat normal cells with metals that people are exposed to during work, to see if they cause the cancerous changes in the test tube.
“We hope by the end of the investigations we will have evidence to help the Government bring in new legislation to protect workers.”
News of the study was also welcomed by South Yorkshire coroner Christopher Dorries.
He said: “I do not think bladder cancer has necessarily had a very high profile in society - people talk about asbestosis and immediately everyone is switched on to the fact it’s a potential industrial disease.
“Although I am sure the specialists who deal with the illness on a regular basis are aware, I am not sure it is the same for society as a whole. So anything that raises the profile, and assists pathologists to determine whether a bladder cancer arises from an industrial cause or not, has to be welcomed.”
Links between industry and bladder cancer were established in Victorian times, and some chemicals found in the rubber and dye trades are used in a controlled environment owing to the risks they pose.
But researchers fear metal industries could be using chemicals in a less controlled way, or chemicals not yet known to cause cancer.
As well as improving the way chemicals are used, the scientists hope to identify people at high risk of developing cancer so the disease can be caught early or prevented, and develop treatments that could minimise the toxicity of chemicals.
Latest figures for 2006-8 show there were 250 deaths in men from the illness in South Yorkshire.