The bladder is a pouch that collects urine from the kidney and stores it before expelling it during urination. When the cells in the bladder become abnormal and grow uncontrollably, you get bladder cancer. It results in the formation of a tumor over time. It may spread to the surrounding lymph nodes or organs. If the case is severe, it may even spread to distant body parts, like your bones, liver or lungs.
Bladder cancer is quite common in men and it affects women as well. It may be malignant or benign. Malignant bladder cancer spreads in a rapid manner, which is why they are life-threatening. If it is left untreated, it will damage organs and tissues.
The common symptoms experienced during the early stages include:
- Blood in the urine, which may be noticeable through the color of the urine itself or might have to be detected through a microscope
- You may need to urinate more frequently than usual. The urine flow might be unusual as well and you may also experience burning sensation or pain while urinating.
When bladder cancer develops and starts spreading, it shows the following symptoms:
- Inability to urinate, even if you feel like you need to
- Pain in the lower back and abdomen
- An unexpected loss of weight
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen feet
- Pain in the bones
- Feeling too weak or tired
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention, however, there is no need to panic. These symptoms might also indicate a less serious condition such as bladder infection or urinary tract infection.
Causes and risk factors
The causes for bladder cancer are multifactorial and genetic mutation has an important role. Being exposed to chemicals or smoking tobacco may cause mutations resulting in bladder cancer. However, different people are affected differently by this. While genetics is not considered to be the primary cause of bladder cancer, it is still suggested that these factors make people more susceptible to the effects of industrial chemicals and tobacco.
There are some risk factors associated with bladder cancer, and smoking is the most important of them. Smokers have a higher chance of developing bladder cancer than the ones who don’t smoke. Older people also have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. Most people diagnosed with bladder cancer are more than 55 years old. Other than that, common risk factors are:
- Congenital abnormalities in the bladder
- Radiation therapy and chemotherapy
- Chronic bladder infections and irritation
- Exposure to specific chemicals in the environment, such as arsenic and aromatic amines
- Exposure to certain industrial chemicals, including substances used for printing, hairdressing, machine operation and painting.
- Men have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer than women
- Low consumption of fluids
- A family or personal history of bladder cancer.
It is possible for bladder cancer to develop in the absence of these risk factors.
Your doctor will begin diagnosing bladder cancer by inquiring about your medical history and symptoms. They will also perform a physical exam. To confirm the diagnosis, they may use the following tests:
- Cystoscopy: This involves the doctor examining the inside of the urethra with the help of a cystoscope. The doctor can also perform a bladder biopsy during a cystoscopy.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests like ultrasound, CT scan and pyelogram are used for confirming a diagnosis and revealing how far cancer has spread.
- Urine tests: Different types of urine tests can be used, including urine cytology, urine culture, and urine tumor marker tests.
Preventing bladder cancer
You may reduce your risk of developing bladder cancer by avoiding some lifestyle factors, such as:
- Avoiding smoking
- Drinking sufficient water
- Staying careful when around chemicals
- Consuming fruits and vegetables for antioxidants
Bladder cancer is primarily treated through one or more of the following:
- radiation therapy
- biological therapy
The treatment approach that the doctor recommends will depend on different factors like:
- Your general health
- The location of cancer and the stage of its development
- Your personal preference.
The chances of being successfully treated increase significantly with early diagnosis, however, bladder cancer can be cured in later stages as well.
Blog Written By:
Consultant – Urologist & Andrologist