Bladder cancer is not one of the cancers that gets very much press time. It is often overshadowed by the “big” cancers like breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, and skin cancer, and not without reason: Breast cancer makes up 12% of cancer diagnoses, 1 in 4 Americans will have lung cancer in their lifetime, and 40-50% of those who reach the age of 65 will have some type of skin cancer, compared to bladder which makes only 5% of all new cancers in America.(1, 2, 3, 4)
That being said, 5% is still a large number of people. The American Cancer society expects nearly 80,000 new cases of bladder cancer in 2017, and it is still the fourth most common cancer found in men. (4) Despite this, a larger percentage of women diagnosed with bladder cancer are expected to die from it than men. (4) This is most likely because the symptoms of bladder cancer can often be misconstrued for other conditions.
It is important for men and women to understand bladder cancer symptoms and how this disease works so we can catch it early, or prevent it all together.
What is Bladder Cancer?
Sometimes, the cells in your bladder change and don’t grow or behave the way they are supposed to. These changes happen more often than you realize, and don’t always result in cancer. (6) Some of these include:
- non-cancerous conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTI) and kidney stones (6)
- benign tumors such as papilloma or a fibroma (6)
Unfortunately, these changes can lead to malignant tumors and cancer.
Types of Bladder Cancer
More than 90% of all bladder cancers start in the urothelium, which lines the inside of your bladder, ureters, urethra, and renal pelvis. This is called urothelial carcinoma, or transitional cell carcinoma. There are several other more rare types of tumors, each with their own unique causes and characteristics.
There are many ways to classify bladder cancer, however, one of the most important is differentiating between non-invasive and invasive.
Non-invasive Bladder Cancer
This type of bladder cancer occurs only in the cells of the urothelium and treatment is more likely to be successful.
Invasive Bladder Cancer
Invasive is as it sounds: This occurs when cancer spreads to the connective tissues or bladder wall muscles. This will typically be seen in the later stages of bladder cancer.
Treatment for Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer treatments vary depending on the grade, stage, and category of cancer, as well as on the individual themselves. Currently, the primary methods of treatment for bladder cancer are:
Surgery can be to remove just the tumor or the tumor and a small part of the bladder, however, it can also be to remove the entire bladder along with surgery to create a new way for your body to release urine. This could include either a catheter so you can urinate more normally or a urostomy bag attached to your body. (8) Both can be difficult mentally and emotionally for most people and can have a huge impact on how you live your life.
13 Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer symptoms are split into two groups: Early and late. (6, 7, 8)
Early symptoms of Bladder Cancer:
- Blood in the urine (all the time or intermittently)
- Frequent or often need to urinate
- Intense or sudden, urgent need to urinate
- Difficulty urinating
- Burning sensation or pain while urinating
Late Symptoms of Bladder Cancer:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Change in bowel habits
- Lump in your pelvis
- Swelling in your legs, scrotum (for men) or vulva (for women)
- Pain in the rectum, anus, pelvis, flank (side), above your pubic bone, or in your bones
The difficulty in detecting bladder cancer symptoms is that they can mimic those of other health conditions, and you may not notice them at first. A woman, for example, may at first think she is experiencing PMS or has contracted a UTI. If you notice even just one of these symptoms, pay attention to others and talk to your doctor right away. (6, 7, 8)
How to Prevent Bladder Cancer
As always, it is far easier to prevent cancer than it is to treat it. While some risk factors, such as age, being caucasian, being male, or having a bladder related birth defect are unchangeable, many of the other items that increase your chances of developing bladder cancer are related to toxins and toxic build up in the body and bladder.
This includes exposure to environmental and occupational chemicals and toxins, exposure to radiation (especially from previous cancer treatments), having chronic bladder infections and irritations, as well as air pollution, pesticides, being a hairdresser, and certain cancer drugs and diabetes medications. (6, 7, 8)
Smoking introduces thousands of cancer-causing chemicals into your body. Not only should you not smoke, you should also avoid spending time around people who do. (6, 7, 8)
Use caution and reduce exposure to chemicals
Some jobs require the use of or put you in daily contact with dangerous chemicals. Be sure to always take appropriate safety precautions when handling these, such as wearing protective clothing and face masks that filter the air. You can also limit your exposure by replacing chemical-filled beauty products, make-up, cleaning supplies, and processed foods with natural alternatives.
Drink lots of water
Drinking plenty of water throughout your day dilutes your urine and increases urinary output. This means you will be regularly filtering and flushing toxins out of your kidneys, giving them less time to sit in your bladder and cause harm.
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables ensures you will have a high intake of fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants. The fiber will help keep your bowel movements regular and the anti-oxidants will destroy free-radicals before they can cause cancer. Try to choose organic whenever possible to further limit exposure to pesticides and toxins.
Detecting and preventing cancer can be challenging, and we often become so consumed with our daily lives that we stop paying attention to our bodies and what they are trying to tell us. It is crucial that we all stay engaged with our health, and to go see a doctor the moment we think there may be something wrong. In this case, you may simply be suffering from a UTI or kidney stones, but if it is bladder cancer, the earlier it’s caught the better.
Make sure to watch out for bladder cancer symptoms and share this article with your friends and family so we can all prevent cancer together!