The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019, more than 80,000 cases of bladder cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and more than 17,000 Americans will die of the illness. Approximately 1 in 27 men and 1 in 89 women develop bladder cancer at some point in their lives.
Who is at risk for bladder cancer?
The biggest risk factor for developing bladder cancer is tobacco smoking. It’s estimated that in both men and women, smoking causes about half of all bladder cancer cases. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself. Other things that are associated with higher rates of bladder cancer include
- Chronic bladder irritation, which can result from recurrent urinary tract infections, kidney or bladder stones, or a catheter that is left in place for an extended period
- Exposure to certain chemicals (usually in the workplace), resulting in higher rates of bladder cancer among people working as hairdressers, painters, printers, truck drivers, machinists, and producers of rubber, paint, leather, and textiles
- Insufficient hydration, which causes bladder to empty less frequently
- Personal history of cancers of the urinary tract
- Certain medications and birth defects
Can bladder cancer be found early?
Although no screening test is available, bladder cancer can be diagnosed early, giving patients the best possible chance of survival. In fact, about half of all bladder cancers are found at a non-invasive stage, and 1/3 are found after they have begun to spread but are still contained within the bladder. In only about 4% new diagnoses, the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. To catch cancer and begin treatment as early as possible, it’s important to be alert to its warning signs.
What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?
Like other types of cancer, the symptoms associated with bladder cancers are also symptoms of less serious (and more common) conditions. So, if you notice any of these symptoms, don’t panic, but do consult your doctor so whatever is causing them can be treated as soon as possible.
- Often, the first sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, which may or may not cause a change in urine color and may come and go. Urinalysis can detect blood in the urine, even when it’s not visible.
- Bladder cancer can also cause other urinary changes, such as increased frequency and/or urgency, pain or burning, weak urine stream, or having trouble urinating.
- If the disease has spread to other parts of the body, it may cause inability to urinate, weakness, lack of appetite, weight loos, bone pain, swelling in the feet, or lower back pain on one side.
If your doctor suspects or wants to rule out bladder cancer as a cause of your symptoms, the first steps are typically a physical exam and urine testing. Sometimes, a physical exam can allow the doctor to feel a tumor and determine its size. Urine tests can also help differentiate possible cancer from infection.
If after these steps, your doctor still suspects bladder cancer, they will likely order a cystoscopy. This is a procedure in which a urologist uses a small video camera on the end of a thin, flexible tube (a cystoscope) to visualize the area. Any abnormalities found during the procedure will be biopsied. If the biopsy does not show cancer, it may indicate other conditions such as a cyst, infection, ulcer, or benign growth. If the biopsy shows cancer, then a CT scan, MRI, and/or ultrasound may be used to determine the size and location of the tumor and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Protect your health.
You can reduce the odds of developing a wide range of cancers by taking preventive steps to protect your health. In addition to not smoking, these include eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, and limiting your intake of alcohol.
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