Bladder cancer is characterized by the overgrowth of anomalous cells which cause cancerous masses or tumors in the bladder. If found and treated early, the individual can have a good outcome.
Causes of bladder cancer
As happens with most cancers, it is difficult to tell what the exact cause of bladder cancer is, but there are some factors which contribute in its development:
Smoking – Smoking is a huge factor; 50 percent of men who smoke are at risk for bladder cancer. Likewise, 30 percent of women who smoke are also at risk.
Chemical exposure at working place – Twenty-five percent of bladder cancer cases result from exposure to some kind of cancer-causing chemicals in the workplace. Workers at the highest risks for bladder cancer include aluminum workers, dye workers and leather workers. Other workers at risk for bladder cancer are those who work with pesticides, those who work in rubber factories and truck drivers.
Bladder infections – Chronic bladder infections could put you at risk for squamous cell bladder cancer. However, chronic bladder infections don’t put you at risk for transitional cell cancer in the bladder. Transitional cells are those which can expand and contract as the bladder fills and empties.
Chemotherapy and radiation – Women, having cervical cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, may have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer.
Parasite infection – People having an infection of the schistosomiasis parasite have may also be at risk for bladder cancer. People who live or vacation in parts of Asia, Africa, South America and the West indies could come into contact with this parasite. The schistosomiasis parasite lives in snails and the water they live in. The parasite can live comfortably in the human gut and urinary tract; they can cause an abnormal growth of cells which can become cancerous.
Symptoms of bladder cancer
Some of the most common symptoms of bladder cancer can easily be mistaken for some other type of illness. The symptoms include:
Blood in the urine
Frequency of urination
Urgent need to urinate
Unexplained weight loss
If you are having any of these symptoms, it is important to report them to your doctor. The symptoms may not indicate bladder cancer, but you won’t know unless you let a medical professional examine you.
Diagnostic tests for bladder cancer
There are some diagnostic tests which can be performed to detect bladder cancer including:
Abdominal CT scan – A CT scan of the abdomen will allow the radiologist to see the structures there.
Biopsy of bladder – A small amount of tissue is taken from the bladder and studied under a microscope.
Cystoscopy – This procedure allows the doctor to look inside your bladder with a camera
Intravenous pyelogram – This is an X-ray taken with an ionizing (radioactive) contrast medium which allows the doctor to visualize the kidneys and bladder. If tumors are present the IV pyelogram will allow them to be visible.
Urinalysis and Urine cytology – A urinalysis will identify the types of cells in the urine, such as the different types of white blood cells and cells that have sloughed off from the lining of the bladder. Urine cytology might be done to identify specific cancerous changes in epithelial cells.
Treatment options for bladder cancer
Primary Stage (0 and 1) treatments – At these stages it may be necessary to surgically remove the tumor without removing the entire bladder. The patient will likely undergo chemotherapy treatments directly to the bladder.
Intermediate Stage (2 and 3) treatments – At these stages it may be necessary to surgically remove the bladder. Chemotherapy may be given first to reduce the size of the tumor prior to surgery. Chemo and radiation may be an option for patients who aren’t physically able to undergo surgery.
Last Stage (stage 4) treatments – Stage 4 bladder cancer is as bad as it gets. Surgery is not usually advisable; chemotherapy may or may not be given at this stage. The doctor and the patient should decide if chemotherapy would be advisable.
Types of therapies to treat bladder cancer
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy can be given to stage 2 and 3 patients; chemo is often indicated before or after surgery to prevent the tumor from returning. Chemotherapy can be given as single drug or as different drug combinations, which may include: Carboplatin, Cyclophosphamide, Cisplatin, Docetaxel, Gemcitabine, Doxorubicin, Ifosfamide, Paclitaxel, Methotrexate and Vinblastine.
Immunotherapy – In immunotherapy, medicines are given to influence the patient’s immune system, so that the immune system can attack and kill the cancer cells. The immunotherapy vaccine, Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine (known as BCG), is administered via a Foley catheter straight into the bladder to treat bladder cancer.
Trans Urethral Resection of Bladder (TURB) – Bladder cancer of stage 0 or 1 can be treated through Trans Urethral Resection of Bladder (TURB). TURB is a surgical procedure, usually done under spinal or general anesthesia. Surgical instruments remove the tumor through the urethra.
Bladder Removal – People having bladder cancer of stage 2 or 3 will most likely have to undergo partial or total bladder removal. Patients having partial bladder or total bladder removal will receive chemotherapy after surgery to avoid cancer coming back.
The treatment for bladder cancer depends on the stage at which the tumor is in, the severity of symptoms, and the patient’s current state of health at the time.