The fourth most common cancer in men? It’s bladder cancer. While it’s less common in women, more than 600,000 people are living with bladder cancer in the U.S., and more than 83,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with this disease this year.
The average age of diagnosis is 73 and nine out of 10 people with this cancer are over age 55. But everyone should watch for the most common symptom of bladder cancer, which is blood in the urine.
What Is Bladder Cancer?
The bladder is part of the urinary system which filters waste from the bloodstream out into the urine. The bladder stores urine until you’re ready to go to the bathroom.
Bladder cancers are typically transitional cell carcinomas that develop in the lining of the bladder and can grow deeper into the muscle layer. Less common types of bladder cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
What Are Risk Factors?
Tobacco exposure is the major risk for bladder cancer. It often affects Caucasian males greater than 65 years old. Other risk factors include:
- Occupational exposures to arsenic, industrial/manufacturing chemicals (diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, hair dyes)
- Chemotherapy for other cancers
- Lynch Syndrome (inherited gene changes)
- Infection (i.e. schistosomiasis)
- Chronic urinary catheters
- Radiation to the pelvis
What Are Common Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?
If you see blood in your urine, see your provider right away. It's the most common symptom of bladder cancer. Sometimes, blood is not seen by the naked eye and only identified under a microscope. In this case, a urologist will perform for further evaluation. Some people also have urinary symptoms like frequent urination, urgency, and burning with urination.
How Is Bladder Cancer Diagnosed?
Evaluation for bladder cancer is often performed by a urologist, which is a surgeon of the urinary system. Diagnosis can be made by cystoscopy (looking into the bladder with a small camera) and CT scan or MRI.
When a tumor is visualized, it will need to be removed by scraping the tumor out of the bladder with small instruments (transurethral resection of bladder tumor or TURBT) to obtain tissue diagnosis. If diagnosis of cancer is made, patients undergo further testing with CT scans and X-rays to identify whether the cancer has spread to the muscle or other parts of the body.
How Is Bladder Cancer Treated?
Treatment of bladder cancer depends on the extent of the tumor. If the cancer hasn’t spread to surrounding tissues, it can be surveyed by cystoscopy with or without liquid medicine treatments (immunotherapy or chemotherapy) in the bladder.
If the tumor involves the muscle layers, bladder removal and diverting the urine with a piece of intestines is recommended. Sometimes, chemotherapy can be given prior to surgery. In some patients, combination chemotherapy and radiation are offered. In advanced cancers, chemotherapy is commonly used.
Treatments offer hope to people with bladder cancer, but early detection is what gives you the best prognosis. If you have any symptoms of blood in the urine or urinary symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor and primary care provider.