Bladder cancer – symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prevention
What is bladder cancer?
The bladder is a pouch in your urinary tract that stores urine after it is produced by the kidneys.
Bladder cancer is an abnormal growth in the lining of the bladder, which can cause blood in the urine.
Untreated bladder cancer can spread to other organs and tissues in the body, including the lungs, liver or bones.
There are around 10,000 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, with the condition becoming more common with age.
The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the more limited it will likely be and the more effective the treatment. Around 56% of people treated for bladder cancer survive for five years or longer.
Many bladder tumours are not cancerous. Make sure you talk to your doctor to understand what type of bladder tumour you may have.
What causes bladder cancer?
The exact cause of bladder cancer remains unknown. But there are a number of risk factors linked to the disease.
Smoking and other chemical exposure. More than most cancers, bladder cancer is associated with exposure to cancer-promoting chemicals, or carcinogens. For example, cigarette smokers may be up to six times the risk of developing bladder cancer compared with non-smokers, because of specific carcinogens in tobacco smoke. People exposed to certain chemicals and dyes, such as painters, leather workers, machinists, metal workers, and rubber and textile workers, are at increased risk of bladder cancer. People who have been treated with radiation or alkylating chemotherapy agents, such as cyclophosphamide, are also at higher risk.
Chemotherapy. Some medications used to treat other cancers can increase the risk of bladder cancer.
Use of the herb, Aristolochia fangchi. This Chinese herb, taken by some people to help them lose weight, has been linked to bladder cancer. Traditional Chinese medicines containing aristolochia extracts are officially banned in the UK.
Long-term use of abladder catheter is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer
Family history of bladder cancer in a first degree relative increases the risk of bladder cancer
What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?
In its early stages, bladder cancer may not have any obvious symptoms. In later stages, symptoms of bladder cancer may include:
- Bloody urine, ranging in colour from faintly rusty to deep red and sometimes containing blood clots. Blood traces, invisible to the naked eye, may show up in tests of urine samples.
- Frequent urinary tract infections, painful urination and a need to urinate often.
- Weight or appetite loss.
- Abdominal or back pain, persistent raised temperature or anaemia.
Seek medical advice about bladder cancer if:
You have any of the symptoms listed above. Although they may not be related to bladder cancer, you should be screened for the disease.