Frank Sinatra. Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver). Dominick Dunne. Hubert Humphrey. What do these men have in common? All were over 40, several smoked cigarettes, and all of them died as they struggled with bladder cancer.
Of course, we know so much more about this disease today than ever before, including risk factors for bladder cancer like smoking, age and gender. And, whatever the cause of the bladder cancer, we understand from the experts that early diagnosis is, front and center, key to successful treatment of bladder cancer today.
What is Bladder Cancer?
According to medical experts at the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, bladder cancer is a cancerous tumor that’s found in the bladder which is the organ that holds and contains urine. The symptoms of bladder cancer can oftentimes be the same symptoms for other conditions. They include blood in the urine, urinary urgency and frequency, and painful urination. Other symptoms include stomach pain, fatigue, weight loss, and urinary incontinence, among others. If you experience these symptoms, you are advised to consult a health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.
What Causes Bladder Cancer?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes bladder cancer. In this country, the United States, bladder cancer usually starts in the cells that line the bladder or “transitional cells.” In other countries, bladder cancer may begin in a different way, and be far more extensive or invasive. With bladder cancer, some tumors in the bladder are more difficult to treat than others, depending upon their shape, appearance, and invasiveness.
Bladder Cancer and Contributing Factors
What experts do know is that there are several factors that contribute to the development of bladder cancer or increase your risk of developing bladder cancer. These include:
Tobacco Use. Cigarette smoking seems to increase the risk of developing bladder cancer significantly. Experts indicate that half of all cases of bladder cancers in men and one-third of all bladder cancers in women are likely caused by smoking tobacco.
Chemical Exposure. Experts suggest that bladder cancer is likely caused by exposure to cancer-causing agents and chemicals called, “carcinogens.” These include dyes and pesticides.
Radiation and Chemotherapy. Some women who receive radiation therapy, according to medical experts, are at increased risk for bladder cancer, as are some patients who have been treated with the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide (or Cytoxan).
Chronic Bladder Infection. An aggressive form of bladder infection has been shown to increase risk of bladder cancer.
Parasites. Outside the United States, some parasites have been shown to increase the risk of bladder cancer. Foreign nationals and globetrotters need to be especially careful in protecting themselves against the possibility of infection.
Risk Factors for Developing Bladder Cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies indicate there are several risk factors for bladder cancer, among them:
Age. The risk of developing bladder cancer increases with age. Rarely, does bladder cancer present itself in patients under the age of 40 years.
Smoking. Tobacco is suspected of being a leading cause of bladder cancer. Smokers are generally three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers.
Occupational Exposure and Hazards. Anyone working in industries or work settings where they are likely to handle chemicals is at increase risk of bladder cancer. This includes truck drivers, machinists, hairdressers, printers, and more.
Infections. Parasitic infections can increase your risk of developing bladder cancer down the line.
Gender. Men are more likely to develop bladder cancer than women. Experts suspect this is because of occupational exposure more than anything else.
Chlorine Exposure. The jury’s out on chlorine, but chlorine exposure is suspected of increasing risk of developing bladder cancer.
Use of Saccharin. The jury’s also out on Saccharin’s role in causing bladder cancer, but for many years this artificial sweetener has been shown to cause cancer in animals.
What If You Have Symptoms?
Early detection and treatment are critical components in fighting bladder cancer. If you have any of the symptoms described above, or have one or more of the risk factors, discuss these and other concerns with your doctor and health care professionals.
It is important to note that bladder cancer is highly treatable in its early stages, especially if has been confined to the bladder. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. Your doctor and clinical health care team are well-positioned to consult with you on these symptoms and, if needed, on your diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.
Bladder Cancer Treatment Overview
National Cancer Institute, US National Institutes of Health