May is Bladder Cancer Awareness month, highlighting the fourth most-common cancer in men. According to the American Cancer Society, over 62,000 cases of bladder cancer are reported in men, and over 18,000 in women, each year.
The bladder’s main function is to store urine, manufactured by the kidneys, before it leaves the body. When you urinate, the muscles in the bladder contract, and urine is forced out of the bladder through a tube called the urethra.
The wall of the bladder has several layers; most bladder cancers start in the innermost lining of the bladder, which is called the urothelium or transitional epithelium. As the cancer grows into or through the other layers in the bladder wall, it becomes more advanced and can be harder to treat.
Researchers do not know exactly what causes most bladder cancers; but they have found some risk factors, which include:
Smokers are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as nonsmokers.
- Workplace exposures
Certain industrial chemicals have been linked with bladder cancer, such as benzidine and beta-naphthylamine, which are sometimes used in the dye industry. Industries carrying higher risks include makers of rubber, leather, textiles, and paint products, as well as printing companies. Workers with an increased risk of developing bladder cancer include painters, machinists, printers, hairdressers (probably because of heavy exposure to hair dyes), and truck drivers (likely because of exposure to diesel fumes).
- Certain medicines & herbal supplements
According to FDA, use of the diabetes medicine pioglitazone (Actos) for more than one year may be linked with an increased risk of bladder cancer (this possible link is still an area of active research). Dietary supplements containing aristolochic acid (mainly in herbs from the Aristolochia family) have been linked with an increased risk of urothelial cancers, including bladder cancer.
- Arsenic in drinking water
The chance of being exposed to arsenic in drinking water depends on where you live and whether you get your water from a well or from a public water system that meets the standards for low arsenic content. For most Americans, drinking water is not a major source of arsenic.
- Not drinking enough fluids
People who drink a lot of fluids, especially water, tend to have lower rates of bladder cancer, possibly because they empty their bladders more often, which may keep chemicals from lingering in their bladder.
In general, catching any cancer early often allows for more treatment options. Bladder cancer can often be found early because it causes blood in the urine or other urinary symptoms. Early signs and symptoms of bladder cancer include:
- Blood in the urine
Blood in the urine does not automatically indicate bladder cancer; however, the early stages of bladder cancer usually does cause bleeding with little or no pain or other symptoms. If you observe changes in the color of your urine, it’s important to have it checked by a doctor so the cause can be found.
- Changes in bladder habits or symptoms of irritation
Having to urinate more often than usual, pain or burning during urination, an urgent need to urinate, even when the bladder is not full, having trouble urinating, or having a weak urine stream, are most likely caused by a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, an overactive bladder, or an enlarged prostate (in men); however, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
If you have any concerns, or reasons to suspect you might have bladder cancer, call the Urology Group of Princeton (609.924.6487) to schedule an exam. One of our board-certified urologists will perform a thorough exam and, if indicated, run tests to find out if it is cancer or something else.