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 tissue. The type of bladder cancer someone is diagnosed with 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. Squamous cell carcinoma is another bladder cancer type and originates in the squamous cells, which are thin flat cells in the lining of the bladder. Adenocarcinoma, is a third bladder cancer type and originates in cells that produce mucus in the bladder called glandular cells.

How prevalent is bladder cancer? Who is affected?

It is estimated that approximately 80,000 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in the U.S. in 2018, making it the 6th most common cancer type. Overall, 1 in 27 men and 1 in 89 women develop bladder cancer in their lifetime.  9 out of 10 people are diagnosed over the age of 55, with an average age of diagnosis 73 years old.

What causes bladder cancer?

Tobacco use increases the risk of bladder cancer. Chronic bladder infections may also cause someone to be more likely to develop bladder cancer. Some environmental exposures, such as drinking water that contains arsenic or chlorine cause someone to be at higher of this cancer.  Lastly, there are genetic variants that can be inherited and increase the risk for bladder cancer. Lynch syndrome is one hereditary condition linked to increased bladder cancer risk.

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, but not being able to. Advanced bladder cancer may cause additional symptoms such as unexplained appetite loss and weight loss.

How do people get diagnosed?

A physical exam and health history is a typical place to start. Next, different tests and procedures may be used to help diagnose bladder cancer. Urinalysis tests urine by examining the color and levels of sugar, protein, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Urine can also be tested in the lab for abnormal cells in a process known as urine cytology. Cystoscopy is a procedure in which a cystoscope, a thin tube with a camera, is entered into the urethra and then the bladder 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 and is therefore easier to treat. The type of bladder cancer will affect the prognosis as well as whether the cancer has metastasized, how many tumors there are, the size of the tumors, and whether the tumor returns 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 five 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 preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk. Limiting or stopping tobacco use is one of the best ways to reduce your risk. Avoiding exposure to chemicals such as aromatic amines (these can be found in rubber, leather, printing materials, textiles, paint production materials, and hair dyes). Drinking plenty of liquids may lower your risk as well.

More resources:
American Cancer Society
NIH Cancer Institute
SEER Program