Doctor’s Orders: Know the Warning Signs of Bladder Cancer to Reduce the Risk

Smoking, chemical exposure and certain prescription drugs are all factors

Knowing the warning signs could help reduce your risk. Nick Scheerbart/Unsplash

Of the cancers that afflict both men and women, one that has a far higher occurrence in males is bladder cancer. Bladder cancer is the fourth most common malignancy in the United States and is also considered one of the 10 deadliest. As with all types of cancer, early detection could be vital for survival. Here are the basics of bladder cancer and the signs and symptoms you should be on the lookout for.

What is the bladder?

A hollow organ in the pelvis, the bladder is a holding reservoir with a primary function to store the liquid that drains from the kidney through tube-like structures called the ureters. As this urine trickles from the kidneys into the bladder, the bladder will gradually stretch and expand to hold the urine until it’s ready to be expelled from the body. The bladder can hold up to about two cups of urine.

Who is at risk?

Men are about three to four times more at risk of developing bladder cancer than women, and the average age of diagnosis is at 73 years of age. According to the American Cancer Society, the disease is uncommon before age 60, as nine out of ten people with cancer of the bladder are over the age of 55. It steadily increases as a person gets older. Additionally, Caucasian men seem to be at an even greater risk, being two times more likely to develop the disease than African American men.

What are the risk factors?

Pinpointing the exact cause of any cancer is difficult, as cancers are caused by varying combinations of genetic and environmental factors. Scientists are just beginning to understand the genes that increase the risk of bladder cancer. It appears to be influenced by oncogenes stimulating malignant transformation of cells and then tumor suppressor genes mutating and losing the ability to claim their role of fighting off cancer cell growth. Some of the possible environmental risk factors include:

  • Cigarette smoking. Smokers inhale toxins absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted by the kidneys into the urine. When urine sits in the bladder waiting to be expelled, the bladder lining is subjected to the carcinogens increasing the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
  • Exposure to chemicals such as those used in the textile, rubber, leather, dye, paint, and print industries.
  • Chronic bladder problems like bladder stones, bladder infections and people who are paralyzed from the waist down.
  • The chemotherapy drug Cyclophosphamide.
  • The diabetes drug Pioglitazone hydrochloride (Actos). The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in 2011 that if this drug had been taken for a year or more the risk for bladder cancer risk increased.
  • Contraction of Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease found in parts of Africa and the Mediterranean region.

If you’re a smoker, the most effective way to reduce the risk of bladder cancer is to quit. Smokers are three to four times more likely to get bladder cancer than non-smokers. Taking steps to avoid environmental carcinogens can also help reduce the risk.

What are the warning signs?

Symptoms of bladder cancer include:

If a person is experiencing any of the above symptoms, they need to see their doctor right away. Factors that drastically impact prognosis include the stage and grade of the tumor, so the sooner a person can get diagnosed the greater the chance of survival.