It is a widely known fact that smoking directly correlates with lung cancer diagnoses, but did you know that smoking also accounts for nearly half of all bladder cancer diagnoses?
Though ranked as the sixth most common cancer in the United States, bladder cancer rarely draws much attention. In recognition of Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is putting bladder cancer in the limelight.
First of all, what is it?
The bladder is an organ located in the lower pelvis that holds urine and squeezes it out of the body. Bladder cancer occurs when the cells that make up the bladder start to grow out of control. Like most cancers, bladder cancer can spread to other parts of the body if it continues to advance.
Though there are five types of bladder cancer, one is far more common than the others: urothelial carcinoma. This cancer starts in the urothelial cells that line the inside of the bladder. Each of the other types only makes up 1% or less of all bladder cancer diagnoses.
Who gets it?
While anyone can get bladder cancer, men are four times more likely than women to be diagnosed, and black men are twice as likely as white men.
The majority of bladder cancer patients are older than 55 years old, with the average age sitting at 73.
Like many other types of cancer, certain behaviors put a person at a higher risk of developing the disease. Tobacco use is a major risk factor, with 47% of all diagnoses being linked to smoking. Exposure to certain chemicals may also increase one’s risk. These chemicals include those used in the textile, rubber, leather, dye, paint, and print industries and chemicals called aromatic amines.
A person’s medical history can also impact the likelihood of them developing bladder cancer. People with chronic bladder problems, such as bladder stones and infections, or who have had chemotherapy with cyclophosphamide face a higher risk of developing the disease. Additionally, those who have already had bladder cancer or who have Lynch Syndrome (and other genetic syndromes) have an increased risk.
What are bladder cancer symptoms?
Nearly all signs of bladder cancer are associated with the urinary tract. The most notable signs are blood (or blood clots) in the urine and pain or a burning sensation during urination. Other bladder cancer symptoms include: frequent urination, feeling the need to urinate many times throughout the night, feeling the need to urinate without being able to pass urine, and lower back pain on one side of the body.
Though these are clear signs of bladder cancer, they are often overlooked. If you experience any of these bladder cancer symptoms or other changes in their urination, it is important to speak to a doctor.
How is bladder cancer diagnosed?
There are three main tests that medical professionals may use to diagnose bladder cancer: urine tests, cystoscopy, and biopsy. If a doctor identified any amount of blood in the urine, they may test the urine for tumor cells using a urine test. Medical teams often use cystoscopy to confirm the diagnosis, which allows the doctor to see inside the body using a thin, lighted, flexible tube. If unusual tissue is found during the cystoscopy, the team will likely progress to a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. This test allows the medical team to confirm whether the cells are cancerous and which type of cancer it is.
How do you treat it?
Bladder cancer can be treated using medication or via surgery.
Medications include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
There are two types of chemotherapy commonly used for bladder cancer: intravesical and systemic. Systemic chemotherapy refers to a drug that is given to target ‘whole-body’ cancer. Intravesical is a local chemotherapy that is delivered to the bladder through a catheter.
Celebrities with Bladder Cancer
Cancer doesn’t care how famous you are – it has affected some of history’s greatest people including:
- Frank Sinatra, talented singer, and actor
- Maurice Lucas, NBA star
- Ruth Sager, cancer researcher
- Phil Lesh, Grateful Dead bassist
- William Rosenberg, Dunkin’ Donuts founder
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