Bladder cancer is one of the more common cancers. Nearly 80,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year, and it is most common in older men.
About 70 percent of cases are caught early when the cancer is at its most treatable. Unfortunately, bladder cancer can recur, so the patient will need to undergo periodic tests after treatment.
There are different types of bladder cancer. In urothelial carcinoma, the cancer originates within the bladder’s inner lining. This is the most common type of bladder cancer in the U.S. Adenocarcinoma starts in glands that produce mucus, and squamous cell carcinoma typically develops in patients with a history of chronic infections of the bladder and/or urinary tract.
Causes of Bladder Cancer
As mentioned above, chronic infections of the bladder and/or urinary tract can lead to bladder cancer. In some countries, such infections can be caused by parasites. While this is generally not as common of an issue within the U.S., it can affect people who frequently travel to developing countries.
Other causes can include frequent exposure to radiation or hazardous chemicals. People who work with chemicals used to manufacture rubber, dyes, leather, paint, or textiles thus have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. Smoking can also contribute bladder cancer, because the body processes some of the chemicals in the cigarette smoke and sends them to the bladder to be excreted. While there, the chemicals can damage the bladder’s wall.
Ironically, some of the drugs used to treat other types of cancer can increase the risk of developing bladder cancer. Similarly, patients who undergo radiation treatments in the pelvic area have an increased risk of developing bladder cancer.
Bladder Cancer Symptoms
The most common symptoms of bladder cancer include pain in the pelvic area, pain while urinating, and blood in the urine, which is also known as hematuria. In this last symptom, the patient’s urine can be bright red or dark. In some cases, the patient’s urine will look normal, but a microscopic examination of the urine will find some blood cells.
Patients with bladder cancer may also have back pain and urinate more frequently than usual. These last two symptoms, however, can occur with other conditions.
Treatment for bladder cancer will depend on the patient’s overall health, the type of cancer, how advanced the cancer is, and whether or not it has spread. For example, if the whole bladder or most of it is affected, the doctor may perform a cystectomy, a surgical procedure in which part or all of the bladder is removed. The doctor will also have to perform reconstructive surgery to create an artificial bladder to store the urine. In one technique, the doctor will make a “neobladder” out of part of the patient’s intestine.
If the doctor catches the cancer before it has spread, he may be able to perform a transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT). In this procedure, the surgeon inserts a cystoscope up the patient’s urethra. He may then use an electrified wire to cauterize the cancer cells, or use a laser to destroy them. The doctor may then use radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.
The doctor might also recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy for patients.