May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

7 min read

May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know

While bladder cancer is becoming more common, it is often overshadowed by other cancers such as lung, breast, and prostate. With May being Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, there's no better time than now to discuss what bladder cancer is, possible symptoms, risk factors, and preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk. For this reason, we're going to take a closer look at bladder cancer so that you can be armed with the proper information to take control of your health. 

What is Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the bladder. The urinary bladder is a muscular sac in the pelvis, located just above the pubic bone. Urine is made in the kidneys, travels down the ureters and finally to the bladder.

Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that usually affects older adults. However, anyone of any age can get this type of cancer. It begins when the cells that make up the urinary bladder start to grow out of control. As more cancer cells form, they develop a tumor that can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. 

Types of Bladder Cancer

Transitional Cell Carcinoma:  Transitional Cell Carcinoma, also known as Urothelial Carcinoma, is the most common type of bladder cancer.  In fact, 9 out of 10 bladder cancers begin in the transitional cells. These cancers begin in the urothelial cells, which lines the inside of the bladder.  These cells are able to stretch when the bladder is full and shrink when it is emptied.

While Transitional Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of bladder cancer, there are a few other types to consider.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Small cell carcinoma
  • Sarcoma

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

The good news is, bladder cancer can often be detected early, allowing individuals to quickly be treated and improve their outlook. Here are a few symptoms of bladder cancer that you can begin watching for: 

Blood in the Urine: Blood in the urine is primarily the reason why bladder cancer is often detected early on. This is generally the first sign that an individual has bladder cancer. The blood can change your urine pink, orange, or dark red. Though, dark red happens less often. The color of your urine, however; will depend on the amount of blood that is present.

It's important to note that while blood is in the urine, this usually presents no pain for the individual. 

Changes in Your Bladder Habits: If you notice any changes in your bladder habits, this can be a symptom of bladder cancer. More specifically, if you notice that you have to urinate more than usual or pain and burning during urination. Another possible change that you can experience is the urge to use the bathroom immediately, even if your bladder isn't actually full. If you have trouble urinating, this could be a symptom as well. 

While these symptoms can potentially be a sign of bladder cancer, it is much more likely that it is a sign of a urinary tract infection, an overactive bladder, bladder stones, or an enlarged prostate if you are male. However, it's a good idea to check with a trusted physician to be examined in order to determine your exact issue. 

If an individual has advanced bladder cancer, they might experience different symptoms. Here are a few symptoms to look out for.

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Low back pain present on one side
  • The inability to urinate 
  • Bone pain
  • Swelling in the feet

Once again, if you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it's always the best idea to contact a trusted physician to get checked out further. 

Understanding Bladder Cancer Risk Factors

There are a few risk factors that individuals should pay attention to in regards to bladder cancer. Understanding these risk factors will help you make better choices moving forward. It's important to note, even if you have one or more risk factors, it doesn't mean that you have or will develop bladder cancer. 

Risk Factors Due to Lifestyle

Smoking: While many people believe that smoking is mainly associated with lung cancer patients, it is also one of the most important risk factors for bladder cancer patients. Those who smoke are actually 3x more likely to get bladder cancer as compared to non-smokers.

Chemical Exposures Due to the Workplace: There are certain work environments that can lead to bladder cancer. Generally, individuals who work in environments using industrial chemicals such as benzidine and beta-naphthylamine are linked to bladder cancer. 

Other work environments that are linked to bladder cancer as well include paint manufacturing and printing, along with those working with rubber, textiles, and leather due to the organic chemicals used in these industries. 

Additionally, hairdressers have an increased risk due to heavy exposure to hair dyes. On the other end, individuals working in the trucking industry have an increased risk due to exposure to diesel fumes. 

Certain Medicine and Herbal Supplements: It's important to be mindful of certain medicines and herbal supplements that you take as they can be linked to bladder cancer. For instance, a study performed by the FDA showed that a diabetic medicine called pioglitazone or Atos, has been shown to increase your risk of bladder cancer. 

Additionally, certain dietary supplements that include aristolochic acid can increase your risk as well. More specifically, taking Aristolochia fangchi, which is a Chinese herb, is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Chlorine and Arsenic: Individuals who drink water containing chlorine and arsenic may increase their risk of bladder cancer. Chlorine is often used in the water as a disinfectant. Arsenic can enter the water supply from natural deposits in the earth or industrial and agricultural pollution.

With that said, your exposure to arsenic will depend on where you live and what water source you use. However, the U.S has worked to implement safety measures that limit the level of arsenic in public water

Low Fluid Consumption: Low fluid consumption can actually increase your risk of bladder cancer as well. 

Risk Factors Due to Genetics

Chronic Bladder Infection or Irritation: Certain bladder issues such as urinary tract infections, kidney, and bladder stones can increase your risk of bladder cancer. 

Personal History: If you've had bladder cancer previously, you have an increased risk of getting it a second time. This is because cancer can occur in other parts of the urothelium.

In addition to this, your risk may be increased if you've had past treatment with radiation therapy to the pelvis or with certain anticancer drugs, such as cyclophosphamide or ifosfamide,

Family History and Genetics: If you have a family history of bladder cancer, you have a higher risk of getting it yourself. This could possibly be because you and your family are exposed to the same cancer-causing chemicals. On the other hand, bladder cancer can be genetic. You and your family may share changes in some genes, making it difficult for the body to break down toxins.

Other Uncontrolled Risk Factors: Other uncontrolled risk factors typically include race, age, gender, and bladder birth defects.

Although still misunderstood, white people are about twice as likely to get bladder cancer when compared to African Americans and Hispanics. Additionally, Asian Americans and American Indians see lower rates of bladder cancer. 

Along with this, age plays an important risk factor. Individuals who are 55 years or older increase their risk as most bladder cancer patients fall in this age range. Lastly, men are more likely to have bladder cancer than women. 

Bladder defects are also something to consider. For instance, the connection between the belly button and the bladder that is present before birth is called the urachus. If it remains after birth, this can lead to cancer. 

Another condition that can increase your risk is called bladder exstrophy, which is a rare birth defect that causes the bladder to develop outside the fetus. 

Preventive Measures for Bladder Cancer

While there is no sure way to prevent bladder cancer, you can certainly work to reduce your risk. For starters, quit smoking immediately. Smoking is thought to contribute to at least half of all bladder cancers. Additionally, it's a good idea to limit exposure to harsh chemicals in the workplace, especially those that have been linked to bladder cancer. Always practice the best safety precautions in the workplace and ensure that you are protecting yourself from these chemicals with the proper equipment. 

If you don't already, it's also a good idea to drink plenty of fluids. Fluids aren't just to keep the body hydrated but it helps to push out toxins in the body.  Along with this, ensure that you have a well-balanced diet including large amounts of fruits and vegetables as some studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables can possibly reduce the risk of bladder cancer. 

As we move through the month of May, we want everyone to understand what bladder cancer is and what measures they can take to keep their bodies healthy and reduce their risk. Remember, it's always a good idea to stay on top of your health. This means knowing the symptoms and being knowledgeable about what habits can increase your risk of bladder cancer, as well as, what genetic factors can contribute as well.

find out more about the genetic testing program at Compass Oncology