It’s well known that smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, but did you know smoking is also a major risk factor for developing bladder cancer?
“Smokers are three times more likely to develop bladder cancers than non-smokers,” said Dr. Larry Munch, a Marshfield Clinic urologist. “Smoking is responsible for more than half of bladder cancers.”
According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer among men and is less likely among women, with 83,730 new cases estimated for 2021.
The most common type of bladder cancer is called urothelial carcinoma, which arises from the inner lining of the bladder. There are other types of bladder cancer, but they’re very rare.
Reduce your risk for bladder cancer
“Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do to reduce risk of bladder cancer and other diseases,” Munch said.
Workplace exposure to certain chemicals like aniline dyes and solvents is another risk factor for bladder cancer. People who work with dyes, rubber, printing, leather and paint may be exposed to these chemicals. Truck drivers also may be at risk because of exposure to diesel fumes. If you have concerns about workplace exposure, talk to your employer about protective equipment.
Some research suggests high intake of processed red meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, ham and cold cuts can lead to bladder, pancreatic, kidney and esophageal cancers. Avoiding these foods is a good idea, Munch said.
See a doctor about bladder problems
Bladder cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms in its early stages.
If you have bladder problems, see a doctor. Passing bloody urine or flecks of tissue, frequent urination, urgency and pain or discomfort with urination could be signs of bladder cancer.
Your doctor will order a CT scan of your abdomen and perform a camera exam of the inside of your bladder. This exam, called cystoscopy, is a simple procedure that can be done in the doctor’s office in less than five minutes.
Treatment depends on cancer grade
The first step in treating bladder cancer is removing the growth from your bladder by going through the urethra. This procedure also tells your doctor how aggressive the cancer is and how deep it goes into the bladder. Most patients will have an anti-cancer medication instilled in their bladder at this time.
If the cancer is low-grade, the procedure may be all you need. If the cancer is high grade, you will likely undergo 6 weekly cycles where “a chemotherapy medication” is placed into the bladder with a catheter followed by up to 3 years of maintenance chemotherapy in the bladder to try to reduce the likelihood that the cancer will come back.
“These tumors do tend to come back, so the patient has to come in for regular follow-up to make sure that we can diagnose and treat any recurrence early,” Munch said.
Cancer involving the bladder muscle is treated with IV chemotherapy and the bladder is surgically removed. This is a life-saving procedure, but it can cause body image and sexual side effects.
Some patients treated with bladder chemotherapy experience urinary symptoms that can be treated with oral medication. Most patients with low-grade disease don’t experience urinary or sexual side effects.