What can I do to reduce my risks of bladder cancer?



We are bringing Bladder Cancer Awareness Month to a close with some basic information on the origins of bladder cancer, treatment options, and how you can reduce your personal risk.

What is bladder cancer?

The bladder is an organ which stores urine until the body is ready to urinate. The bladder has 4 main layers of tissues. The type of bladder cancer depends on which tissue the cancerous cells originate from.

What are the types of bladder cancer?

There are three main types: transitional cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Transitional cell carcinoma (also known as urothelial carcinoma) is the most common type. In this type the cancer originates in the lining of the bladder called the urothelial cells. These cells change shape to accommodate for the amount of urine in the bladder. Another type is squamous cell carcinoma, this cancer originates in the squamous cells which are thin flat cells in the lining of the bladder. A third type is adenocarcinoma, this cancer originates in cells that produce mucus in the bladder called glandular cells.

How prevalent is bladder cancer? Who is affected?

Bladder cancer accounts for 4.5% of all new cancers cases, making it the fourth most common cancer for men. 2.7% of all cancer deaths are from bladder cancer, for men this is the eighth most common cause of cancer death. There are around 74,000 adults (56,320 men and 17,680 women) diagnosed with bladder cancer in the United States every year.

What causes bladder cancer?

There have been correlations between tobacco use and bladder cancer. Chronic bladder infections can also elevate risk for developing bladder cancer. There are genes variants that one can inherit increasing their risk for bladder cancer. Another risk factor is drinking water that contains arsenic or chlorine.

What are the symptoms?

Blood present in urine and pain during urination are the most common signs of bladder cancer. Other signs include frequent urination, lower back pain and feeling the need to urinate and not being able to. Advanced bladder cancer may have additional more serious symptoms such as unexplained appetite loss and weight loss.

How do patients get diagnosed?

A physical exam and health history is a typical place to start, this includes checking for lumps or anything unusual. An internal exam is when a doctor will check for lumps in the vagina and/or rectum. Urinalysis tests urine by examining the color and levels of sugar, protein, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Urine can also be used to find abnormal cells in the lab in a process known as urine cytology. Cystoscopy is another procedure where a cystoscope is entered into the urethra into the bladder and a camera is used to view the bladder. This instrument may also have a tool to collect a tissue sample for testing.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis, or chance of recovery, depends on a few factors such as the stage of the cancer. Most often, bladder cancer is detected in early stages of cancer and is therefore easier to treat. The type of bladder cancer will affect the prognosis as well as if it has metastasized, how many tumors there are, the size of the tumors and if the tumor has returned after treatment. 77.4% of people that develop bladder cancer survive 5 or years or more.

What are the treatment options?

Treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and biologic therapy. There are currently 5 FDA approved drugs to treat bladder cancer, Cisplatin, Doxorubicin Hydrochloride, Platinol (Cisplatin), Platinol-AQ (Cisplatin) and Thiotepa.

What can I do to reduce my risks of bladder cancer?

There is no proven way to prevent bladder cancer, but there are preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk. Limiting or stopping tobacco use is the main prevention. Avoiding exposure to chemicals such as aromatic amines (this can be found in rubber, leather, printing materials, textiles, and paint product production and hair dyes). Drinking a lot of liquids may lower your risk as well.

More resources:American Cancer SocietyCancer.netNIH Cancer Institute
SEER Program

Photo by Keoni Cabral, via Flickr