The bladder is the organ responsible for collecting and storing urine until it is excreted from the body. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 70,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with bladder cancer.
In most instances, bladder cancer symptoms are few and very obvious. These symptoms may indicate bladder cancer or some other urinary concern. They include:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria) that can appear pink, brown or red, with or without clots
- Mild to severe pain while urinating (dysuria)
- Frequent urination, especially during the night
- An intense physical sensation of needing to urinate, despite having just emptied the bladder or having tried to empty the bladder.
Bladder cancer develops when healthy cells in the bladder develop genetic mutations that cause them to grow out of control. These abnormal cells form a tumor. It's not always clear what causes this to occur, but bladder cancer has been linked to smoking, parasitic infection, radiation and chemical exposure.
Doctors have identified many risk factors for bladder cancer, including:
- Cigarette smoking (smoking is attributed to more than half of all cases of bladder cancer)
- Second hand smoke exposure
- Race (Caucasians develop the disease more frequently)
- Gender (males develop the disease more frequently than females)
- Family history of bladder cancer
- A diet high in saturated fat
- Inadequate intake of liquids
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Recurrent urinary stones
- Chronic inflammation of the bladder
- Infection of a parasite called schistosoma haematobium
- External beam radiation
- Use of aristolochia fangchi (an herb used frequently in weigh loss products)
If you are being treated for a urinary tract infection and are not feeling better after taking all of your medication, it is important that you let your doctor know. Symptoms that at first seem related to a urinary tract infection, but do not respond to medication, could indicate the presence of bladder cancer. Diagnostic tests may include:
- Urinalysis and urine culture to check whether an infection is the underlying cause of your symptoms. A urine culture looks for the presence of bacteria in the urine, while urinalysis checks for the presence of blood. Your doctor may also want to check your urine for the presence of tumor markers, which are proteins found in the urine of people with bladder cancer.
- Urine cytology to screen your urine for abnormal cells.
- Cystoscopy to get a better look at your bladder. This procedure uses a thin, lighted tube equipped with a microscopic camera. If any suspicious areas are found, a biopsy can be done during your cystoscopy. A biopsy is the removal of small amount of bladder tissue to be examined for the presence of cancer. This is the only way to confirm if cancer is present.
Typical treatments for bladder cancer include:
- Immunotherapy may treat superficial, localized cancers.
- Chemotherapy before surgery has improved treatment results.
- Timely follow-up care is extremely important because of the high rate of bladder cancer recurrence.
There are no proven method for preventing bladder cancer, but there are steps you can take to reduce your initial risk, as well as your risk for recurrence:
- Drink plenty of fluids. The more liquids you drink, the less time potentially cancer causing substances remain in your system.
- Don't smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
- Know what chemicals you are exposed to in the workplace. If you are exposed to fumes, dust and chemicals, you have a right to know. Talk to your employer about precautions (like wearing the proper safety equipment) to limit your exposure.
- Eat a well-balanced diet, which is advantageous for many reasons. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, but low in animal fats and salt helps prevent obesity, a risk factor for all cancers.