Bladder cancer: what is it?
What is bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer is one of the most common cancers. It occurs in the urinary bladder, which is a hollow pouch in the pelvis that stores urine. The urinary bladder is an organ that is now made up of several layers of cells, which allow it to be flexible and muscular. When you urinate, the muscles in your bladder contract, pushing the urine out. The urine leaves your body through a tube called the urethra.
Bladder cancer occurs when cells in the urinary bladder grow uncontrollably or abnormally, forming a tumor. The cells that cause bladder cancer usually start growing in the innermost layer of cells in the bladder. If it goes undetected, the cancer cells can grow into the other layers of the bladder wall, causing the cancer to spread and making it harder to treat. Bladder cancer can also spread to nearby fat and tissue, or even to other parts of the body through a process called metastasis.
Most cases of bladder cancer are detected early, when the cancer is very treatable. Bladder cancer has very high survival rates. More than 7 out of 10 people diagnosed with bladder cancer will still be alive 5 years after they are diagnosed. Outcomes are based on a person’s own unique situation, like their overall health and how well their cancer responds to treatment, but overall, bladder cancer tends to have good outcomes.
Who is most likely to have bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer is more common in men than in women and is more likely to occur as you age. However, bladder cancer can happen in anyone.
Common risk factors for bladder cancer include:
- Being male
- Being over 40 years old
- Being White
- Having previous or chronic bladder infections
- Having someone in your family that had bladder cancer or another cancer in the urinary tract
- Smoking or using tobacco
- Working around or being exposed to harmful chemicals often
- Taking diabetes medications like pioglitazone (Actos) for more than a year
- Having exposure to radiation (such as prior chemo or radiation treatment)
Symptoms of bladder cancer
Blood in your urine (hematuria) can make your urine appear red or Coca Cola-colored, and can point to bladder cancer. Frequent urination, pain while urinating, or pain in your pelvis or your back also may be symptoms of bladder cancer.
What should I do if I think I might have bladder cancer?
If you do have any of these risk factors or symptoms, you should visit a urologist doctor to be screened for bladder cancer. If you do not have any of these risk factors, it is helpful to monitor your urine and urinary habits for any changes. If you have had bladder cancer before, make sure to get checked regularly with follow-up tests for years after treatment, as bladder cancer can recur or advance.
Early detection of bladder cancer makes it easier to treat. If you have blood in your urine or have other symptoms that you suspect might be from bladder cancer, you should make an appointment with a urologist doctor to be checked for bladder cancer.