Know Bladder Cancer’s Signs and Your Risks

About 77,000. That’s the number of Americans that will be diagnosed with bladder cancer this year. If you or someone you care about is diagnosed, the chances of recovery are boosted with early detection, so let’s take a closer look at bladder cancer — the sixth most common form of cancer.

The bladder is the hollow organ in your lower abdomen that receives and stores urine from the kidneys, which clean the waste from your blood. The bladder holds the waste fluid until it’s released through the urethra and passes out of the body.

Signs of Bladder Cancer

The symptoms of bladder cancer can also be caused by other conditions. Symptoms can include:

  • Blood in the urine (it can be slightly rusty to bright red).
  • Frequent urination.
  • Pain during urination.
  • Lower back pain.

If you have any of these symptoms, please see your health care professional. Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean you have bladder cancer.

Risks for Cancer

A number of factors can contribute to developing bladder cancer. But just as with other cancers, just because you have some of the risks, that doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer. And even if you have no risk factors, you could still end up being diagnosed with the disease. Risks for bladder cancer include:

  • Using tobacco, especially smoking cigarettes.
  • Having a family history of bladder cancer.
  • Being exposed to paints, dyes, metals or petroleum products in the workplace.
  • Receiving radiation therapy to the pelvis in the past.
  • Receiving certain anticancer drugs.
  • Drinking well water that’s high in arsenic.
  • Using urinary catheters over a long period.

The Different Types of Bladder Cancer

There are three types of bladder cancer:

  • Transitional cell carcinoma: This cancer begins in cells in the innermost tissue layer of the bladder. These cells can stretch and shrink as the bladder fills and empties. Most bladder cancers begin in the transitional cells.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that may form in the bladder after long-term infection or irritation.
  • Adenocarcinoma: This rare cancer starts in the glandular (secretory) cells in the bladder lining.

If cancer is in the lining of the bladder, it’s called superficial. If it spreads through the bladder lining and into the muscle wall, or spreads to other organs, it’s called invasive bladder cancer.

Tests for Bladder Cancer

If you have any of the signs we’ve described, your health care provider will ask for your medical history since it can provide insights into your risk factors. Your provider may use one or more tests to make a diagnosis, such as:

  • Urinalysis to test for the presence of blood in the urine.
  • Urine cytology to test for cancer cells in the urine.
  • Ultrasounds.
  • CT scan/MRI.
  • Cystoscopy and biopsy to view the inside of the bladder and remove tissue for testing.

Treatments for Bladder Cancer

If a diagnosis of bladder cancer is made, the provider can review the best options for the situation. Treatments can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biologic therapy, which boosts the body’s ability to fight the cancer.

As we mentioned, recovery changes are better with early detection, so see your health care professional if you have questions or concerns about bladder cancer.

Meet the Author

Matthew W. Johnson, MD is a board-certified urologist at AMG Urology Specialists in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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