What is Bladder Cancer?


In the UK each year, about 10,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer. Of these, 80% (8 out of 10) are diagnosed with early bladder cancer. One of the main causes of bladder cancer is smoking. As people get older, this type of cancer becomes more common.

The bladder is a storage organ that stores and collects urine. It is a stretchy bag made of muscle tissue. The bladder is lined with a membrane that stops the urine from absorbing back into the body. Kidneys produce urine and then it is carried to the bladder via ureters. The bladder can store about two cups of urine until it is full. It is emptied through the urethra. This is what takes the urine out of the body.

The urethra is a short tube in front of the vagina in women. In men, however, the urethra is longer and passes through the prostate gland and the penis.

What Is Bladder Cancer?

Cancers are generally named after the body part where the cancer originates. Bladder cancer is usually found in the lining of the bladder. The risk for getting bladder cancer increases with age. People who are diagnosed with bladder cancer are generally over the age of 50.

There are three main types of bladder cancer:

  • non-invasive bladder cancer
  • invasive bladder cancer
  • advanced bladder cancer

A cancer that is only in the inner lining of the bladder is known as non-invasive bladder cancer. Cancer that has moved into the deeper walls of the bladder is known as invasive bladder cancer. If the cancer has spread beyond the bladder to other parts of the body, it is known as advanced bladder cancer.

The treatment for non-invasive bladder cancer is different to that of invasive and advanced bladder cancer, so it’s vital to know the difference.

What Causes Bladder Cancer?

An exact cause for bladder cancer is unknown. What is known is that there are many factors that may increase the risk of getting bladder cancer. These include:

  • Smoking. This is the greatest risk factor for all cancers. The chemicals in smoke are absorbed into blood and filtered out by the kidneys. From there they can end up in urine. Urine is stored in the bladder so the chemicals come in contact with the bladder. As time goes on, this causes damage to the cells that line the bladder.
  • Exposure to chemicals used at work.
  • Bladder infections such as cystitis. Fortunately this is not as common.
  • Suffering from bladder stones because they can cause infections if they attack for a long term.
  • Family medical history. However bladder cancer is rare so this is not something you need to worry about as much.
  • Previous bladder cancer. If you have had the disease before you are higher at risk of it coming back.

Lifestyle Changes To Reduce Your Risk

While you can’t completely prevent bladder cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your risk:

  1. Kick the habit: If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do. Your doctor can help you find resources to quit.
  2. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps flush out your bladder regularly. Aim for 6-8 glasses a day.
  3. Eat a rainbow: Load up on fruits and veggies. They’re packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants.
  4. Move your body: Regular exercise boosts your immune system and helps maintain a healthy weight.
  5. Limit chemical exposure: If you work with chemicals, always use proper protective equipment.
  6. Don’t hold it: When nature calls, listen. Emptying your bladder frequently helps remove potential carcinogens.

Remember, these changes won’t guarantee you won’t get bladder cancer, but they’ll improve your overall health and potentially reduce your risk. If you’re concerned about your bladder cancer risk, chat with your doctor about personalised prevention strategies.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bladder Cancer?

The first sign of bladder cancer is usually blood in the urine. It may be enough to see at the naked eye. However, it may also be so small that it can only be discovered by a test. Other symptoms you may see can include:

  • The need to urinate frequently and suddenly
  • The need to urinate and nothing coming out

These symptoms are also common with milder conditions such as cystitis and bladder or kidney stones. It is important to visit your doctor for a diagnosis instead of diagnosing yourself.

Can I Avoid Getting Bladder Cancer?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent bladder cancer. For the general population, the best way to avoid it is to quit smoking.

How Is Bladder Cancer Diagnosed?

If you find blood in your urine or have constant bladder infections your doctor can do a test to rule out an infection. You will then be referred to a local hospital for continued testing.

The most common procedure at the hospital is a test that allows doctors to view the inside of the bladder via the urethra. They use an instrument called a cystoscope. If the bladder looks abnormal at all, a small piece of tissue will be removed for a biopsy.

Can Bladder Cancer Be Treated?

As soon as the diagnosis of bladder cancer has been made the treatment will be dependent on the type of cancer and how far it spread. The most common treatment is having the tumour removed from the bladder. If the cancer has grown and spread you will have a choice of radiation therapy or having the bladder removed.

Should the bladder need to be removed, a urinary pouch will be made or a new bladder will be made using part of the bowel. Chemotherapy can be used before surgery in order to shrink the tumour and after the surgery to prevent the risk of it returning.

Organisations That Can Help

Fight Bladder Cancer is a charity created by bladder cancer survivors and their families. A confidential, online form for help and advice of bladder cancer can be found on their website: www.fightbladdercancer.co.uk/content/our-confidential-forum

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of Home Health Tests and Earplugs

This post was originally published in August 2015 and was last updated in July 2024.

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