What Causes Bladder Cancer?

Everything You Need to Know About Bladder Cancer

Did you know that bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men? The chance a man will develop bladder cancer is one in 27. The likelihood of a woman developing bladder cancer is much less likely – one in 89.

The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2018, there would be 81,190 new cases of bladder cancer – 62,380 in men, and 18, 810 in women. They also estimated that there would be 17,240 deaths attributed to bladder cancer – 12,520 in men, and 4,270 women.

Bladder cancer also typically affects people at an older age, though it can affect people at any age. Luckily, it is mostly diagnosed at its early stages – seven out of 10 cases are diagnosed in these stages.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the most common types of cancer.

What Causes Bladder Cancer?

We do not know the exact cause of bladder cancer (or most other cancers!) However, researchers have identified specific genetic mutations that may cause cancer.

Most of these gene mutations are acquired, which means that they result from exposure to a cancer-causing chemical or radiation.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Acquired changes in certain genes, such as the TP53 or RB1 tumor suppressor genes and the FGFR and RAS oncogenes, are thought to be important in the development of some bladder cancers. Changes in these and similar genes may also make some bladder cancers more likely to grow and invade the bladder wall than others.”

There are inherited gene mutations that can increase the risk for bladder cancer. Although this is a possibility, they are not a significant cause of bladder cancer.

Other risk factors include:

  • Smokers are three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers.
  • Bladder defects. Having a bladder defect can increase the risk of developing cancer.
  • Having undergone chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Being male and white.
  • Having chronic bladder infections.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as aromatic amines and arsenic in water.
  • A family history of bladder cancer.
  • Low fluid consumption.

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Hematuria, or blood in the urine, is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. According to Medical News Today, hematuria could be so visible that it changes the color of the urine, or it may be only detectable with a microscope.

There also could be a change in urination habits. This could include an increase in the need to urinate, dysuria (painful urination), or urination that is has a “stop and start” flow.

Once bladder cancer evolves into its later stages, back pain and bone pain may be present. Weight loss can occur. Swelling in the lower extremities may be present. An inability to urinate may also occur.

All of these symptoms may indicate something much less serious, so it is important to seek medical attention, should you note these symptoms.

Bladder Cancer Treatment

Surgery is available for all stages of cancer. The type of surgery is dependent on the stage.

  • Transurethral resection (TUR): treats bladder cancer that is stage 0 or 1. A surgeon uses a tool to cut out the tumor from the bladder, as well as abnormal tissue. Any remaining abnormal cells are burned.
  • Cystectomy: is performed if the cancer has spread deeper into the bladder. A partial cystectomy removes the portion of the bladder that has cancerous cells, whereas a radical cystectomy removes the entire bladder, as well as surrounding lymph nodes, the prostate and seminal vesicles, the uterus, ovaries, and part of the vagina.
  • Reconstructive surgery: is performed for cystectomy surgeries, as the body will require a new way to hold urine, as well as remove urine.

Chemotherapy can be used to target and kill cancerous cells. It is often used so that a less invasive surgery can be performed. It may be used before or after surgery and can be given orally, intravenously, or even given right into the bladder through a catheter. Chemotherapy is not without side effects, though, so not everyone is a candidate.

Biologic therapy is used in early-stage cancer. Medications are administered that encourage the immune system to fight cancer.

The most common type of biologic therapy for the treatment of bladder cancer is Bacillus Calmette-Guerin Therapy (BCG). BCG therapy involves injecting a bacterium into the bladder, which “attracts and activates immune system cells, which are then able to fight any bladder cancer cells that are present. This treatment is normally given once a week for six weeks. It often begins shortly carrying out a TUR.”

Radiation therapy is also used. Radiation is used in conjunction with chemotherapy and involves focusing high-energy radiation on to the cancer for several weeks. It may be helpful for people who are not surgical candidates

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