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, and bones.
There are just over 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 50% of people treated for bladder cancer survive for 10 years or longer.
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 (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 a bladder 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:
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.
How is bladder cancer diagnosed?
To diagnose bladder cancer, your doctor completes a thorough medical history and examination, and then he or she will probably refer you to a urologist - a surgeon who has special training in managing the diseases of the bladder.
One test he or she will probably perform is cystoscopy. The bladder can be viewed through a fibre-optic lighted tube known as a cystoscope. The urologist will pass the cystoscope through the urethra into the bladder. If the doctor sees anything unusual, like a tumour, a tiny tissue sample is taken through the tube and examined in the laboratory ( biopsy). Should the tumour be malignant, the treatment will depend on how far, if at all, the cancer has spread.
Blood and urine studies - to look for cancer cells and infection - and imaging studies with X-rays, CT, ultrasound, and MRI of the bladder, kidneys, and other organs, provide information about tumour size, location, and the degree or amount of spread to other parts of the body.