Bladder Cancer Risk Factors & Prevention


A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease like bladder cancer. Some risk factors like smoking and chemical exposure can be controlled, while others, such as age and genetics, cannot. When it comes to bladder cancer, there's no way to determine that you won't develop it, nor is there any way to prevent it. With that said, it is important to be aware of the factors that are known to increase the risk of bladder cancer. The more you know about bladder cancer risk factors, the better equipped you'll be to make lifestyle choices that can help lower your chance of getting it. 

The following factors may raise a person's risk of developing bladder cancer:

  • Tobacco use. While smoking cigarettes are the most common risk for bladder cancer, smoking cigars and pipes can also increase the risk. Smokers are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than nonsmokers. Learn more about how to quit smoking.
  • Age. The chances of being diagnosed with bladder cancer increase with age. Approximately 9 out of 10 people with bladder cancer are over the age of 55. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 73. 
  • Gender. While bladder cancer is more common in men, women are more likely to die from it. 
  • Race. White people are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer as African American and Hispanic people, but African Americans are twice as likely to die from the disease.
  • Chemicals. Certain chemicals can increase the risk of bladder cancer. These can include chemicals that are used in the textile, rubber, leather, dye, paint, and print industries; some naturally occurring chemicals; and chemicals called aromatic amines.
  • Personal history. If you have already had bladder cancer you are more likely to develop it again.
  • Chronic bladder problems. Infections and bladder stones may increase the risk of bladder cancer. People who are paralyzed from the waist down and required to use urinary catheters, or, people who have had many urinary infections may be more at risk. 
  • Lynch syndrome. People with an inherited condition called Lynch syndrome, previously called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC, may have an increased risk of developing bladder cancer in both the upper and lower tract.
  • Arsenic exposure. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance that can cause health problems if consumed in large amounts. When found in drinking water, it has been associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer. Where you live and whether you get your water from a well or from a system that meets the standards for acceptable arsenic levels will determine your chances of being exposed.  
  • Cyclophosphamide use. People who have had chemotherapy with cyclophosphamide have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer.
  • Pioglitazone (Actos) use. Taking the diabetes drug pioglitazone for more than 1 year has been linked to a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned people of this in 2011, published studies have shown contradictory results.
  • Schistosomiasis. People who have some forms of this parasitic disease are more likely to develop bladder cancer (squamous cell). Schistosomiasis is found in parts of Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. 

If you believe that you are at a higher risk for bladder cancer because of certain factors, you might consider asking your doctor about tests that could detect it early. Early detection of bladder cancer allows you to begin treatment earlier when it is most likely to be effective.