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Bladder Cancer

The Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention of Bladder Cancer


Updated April 23, 2014

Bladder cancer is a disease that affects the bladder, an elastic organ that is responsible for storing urine that is released by the kidneys. It is the fifth most common type of cancer in the U.S. and when diagnosed in the early stages, it is highly treatable.

There are several types of bladder cancer, some being more common then others. The most common type of bladder cancer is urothelial carcinoma, accounting for about 90% of bladder cancer cases. The remaining types of bladder cancer are considered rare. They include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, small cell carcinoma, leiomyosarcoma, lymphoma, and, melanoma.

Bladder Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Although researchers cannot pinpoint the exact causes of bladder cancer, several risk factors for the disease have been identified. The greatest risk factor for developing bladder cancer is smoking. When people smoke, the carcinogens are absorbed into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Our blood is then filtered by the kidneys and the waste is then converted in urine, which is released to the bladder to exit our body. Unfortunately, the carcinogens from the tobacco remain in the urine and damage the cells in our bladder, potentially causing cancer.

We also know that occupational exposure to certain chemicals increases our risk of bladder cancer. Chemicals used in making dyes is strongly associated to the development of bladder cancer. Chemicals called aromatic amines at factories that produce leather, rubber, paint, and other products are also suspected.

We also know that hair stylists, painters, those who work at printing factories, and truck drives also develop bladder cancer more commonly than those who work in other industries. Other risk factors for bladder cancer include:
  • being Caucasian
  • being male
  • increasing age
  • personal or family history of bladder cancer
  • bladder birth defects
  • chronic bladder inflammation (cystitis)
  • not consuming enough liquids

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Symptoms of bladder cancer include:
  • blood in the urine )either seen by naked eye or microscopically
  • painful urination
  • frequent urination
  • Diagnosing Bladder Cancer

    If a doctor suspects that something may be wrong with the bladder, one of the first tests done will be a urine culture and urinalysis. Your doctor will want to see if an infection is the underlying cause of symptoms. A urine culture looks for the presence of bacteria in the urine, while urinalysis checks for the presence of blood. Note: If you are being treated for a urinary tract infection or cystitis and are not feeling better after taking all of your medication, it is important that you let your doctor know.

    Your doctor may also want to check your urine for the presence of tumor markers, proteins that are increased in the urine of people with bladder cancer.

    Another test used is diagnosing bladder cancer is urine cytology. In this test, a sample of your urine is screened for abnormal cells. These cells are then looked at under the microscope to screen for cancer. While it may sound like a non-invasive way to easily diagnose bladder cancer, it isn't. The test is known for false-negatives and false positives.

    If bladder cancer is suspected, then the doctor will want to get a better look at your bladder. This can be achieved through a cystoscopy, a procedure where the doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube equipped with a microscopic camera into the urethra to the bladder. The camera projects live feed to a monitor allowing the doctor to see see inside the bladder. If any suspicious areas are found, a biopsy can be done during a cystoscopy. A biopsy is the removal of small amount of bladder tissue to be examined further for the presence of cancer. It is the only way to confirm if cancer is present.

    Bladder Cancer Treatment

    Once bladder cancer is confirmed and the type and stage have been identified, a treatment plan is developed. Treatment depends on the type and stage of bladder cancer, as well as general health.

    Surgery is the most common type of treatment for bladder cancer. Surgery can be as minor as removing small superficial tumors during a cystoscopy to surgery to remove the entire bladder (cystectomy). Surgery may be done alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation.

    Chemotherapy may be recommended for both early and advanced stages of bladder cancer, but they may be administered differently. Chemotherapy treatment for those with early stage bladder cancer is delivered directly into the bladder. This is called intravesical chemotherapy. More advanced cases of bladder cancer that have spread to beyond the bladder are treated by standard intravenous (IV) chemotherapy.This type of treatment uses certain types high energy beams of radiation to shrink tumors or eliminate cancer cells.

    Radiation therapy can be prescribed to treat the disease and also to ease symptoms caused by the bladder cancer (palliatively). This type of treatment uses certain types high energy beams of radiation to shrink tumors or eliminate cancer cells. Radiation therapy works by damaging a cancer cell's DNA, making it unable to multiply. Although radiation therapy can damage nearby healthy cells, cancer cells are highly sensitive to radiation and typically die when treated. Healthy cells that are damaged during radiation are resilient and are often able to fully recover.
  • Preventing Bladder Cancer

    Unfortunately, there are no proven methods that guarantee prevention of bladder cancer. By avoiding what risk factors we can for bladder cancer, we may be able to reduce our chances of developing it.

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