Defining Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the bladder. In recent decades there has been a steady increase in the incidence of bladder cancer. However, doctors are making progress in treatment, and survival rates are improving.
There are three types of bladder cancer that begin in the cells in the lining of the bladder. These cancers are named after the type of cells that become cancerous:
1. Transitional Cell Carcinoma: More recently renamed urothelial carcinoma, this cancer begins in cells in the outermost issue layer of the bladder. These cells are capable of stretching when the bladder is full and shrinking when it is emptied. Bladder cancers typically begin in the transitional cells.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This cancer begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that may form in the bladder after long-term irritation or infection. This form of bladder cancer is very rare in the U.S.
3. Adenocarcinoma: This cancer begins in glandular (secretory) cells that may form in the bladder after long-term inflammation and irritation.
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
In most cases, blood in the urine, or hematuria, is one of the first detected signs of bladder cancer. This occurs when there is enough blood to change the color of the urine to orange, pink, or even a darker red.
While hematuria is a symptom of bladder cancer, it is not 100% indicative of bladder cancer every time. Small amounts of blood can be found in urine tests as part of a general medical checkup.
Bladder cancer can sometimes affect urination, including changes such as:
- Having to urinate more often than is normal
- A pain or burning sensation during urination
- The feeling as if you need to urinate right away, even when the bladder is not full
- Having difficulty urinating or having a weak urine stream
These symptoms could likely be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney stones, an overactive bladder, or an enlarged prostate (in men). Still, it is important to have them checked by a doctor in order to eliminate bladder cancer as a potential cause these symptoms.
Bladder cancers that have grown large enough or have spread to other parts of the body can sometimes make way for other symptoms, including:
- Being unable to urinate
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Lower back pain on one side
- Swelling in the feet
- Feeling tired or weak
- Bone pain
Causes of Bladder Cancer
Smoking: Believe it or not, smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes may actually increase your risk of bladder cancer by causing harmful chemicals to accumulate in your urine.
Increased age: Bladder cancer can occur at any age, but it’s rarely found in people younger than 40 years of age.
Race: Caucasians have a greater risk of bladder cancer than other races of people.
Gender: Men are more likely to develop bladder cancer than women.
Previous Cancer Treatment: Treatment with prior pelvic radiation, as well as the anti-cancer drug cyclophosphamide can increase your risk of contracting bladder cancer.
Diabetes Medication: People who take the diabetes medication pioglitazone (Actos) for a year or longer have an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Chronic Bladder Inflammation: Chronic or repeated urinary infections or inflammations (cystitis), which is common in cases of long-term use of a urinary catheter for instance, may increase your risk of a squamous cell bladder cancer.
Personal or Family History of Cancer: If a patient has had bladder cancer, they’re more likely to get it again. Like most cancers, it can be hereditary, although it’s rare for bladder cancer to run in families. If one or more of their immediate relatives has a history of bladder cancer, that patient may have an increased risk of the disease.