Bladder cancer affects nearly 70,000 Americans each year. Bladder cancer refers to abnormal cells within the lining of the bladder than mutate, causing tumors and other severe problems. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 17,000 people will die from bladder cancer in 2019.
Various types of bladder cancer exist and can range from mild and early-stage cancer to severe and widespread cancer. When doctors can detect bladder cancer at an early stage, then it is usually treatable and manageable moving forward. However, a more advanced stage of cancer will require more extreme treatments and monitoring.
It can be difficult to identify early signs and symptoms of bladder cancer. However, there are a few tell-tale symptoms that can indicate the presence of bladder cancer.
Bladder cancer is more prominent in men than in women. Rarely is it found in people under the age of 40, and your risk for bladder cancer increases as you age. Smokers are at a higher risk for bladder cancer as smoking allows for harmful chemicals to gather in the urine. These chemicals can then cling to the lining of the bladder, increasing the risk of cancer. Chronic bladder issues such as infections and inflammation can also increase a person’s risk for bladder cancer.
Exposure to certain harmful chemicals can also increase the risk of cancer. For example, arsenic and other chemicals used in the manufacturing of paint products, leathers, and other items can be extremely harmful to the kidneys which filter toxins from the bloodstream to the bladder. It can be challenging to pinpoint exactly what caused the cancer, but leading a healthy life free from tobacco and harmful chemicals is an excellent way to reduce the risk of bladder cancer.
One of the most apparent symptoms of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, known as haematuria. Typically this is totally painless, and it may come and go. If you notice blood in your urine or that your urine has turned a brown or orange color, it is best to seek professional help sooner rather than later.
Additionally, difficulty urinating, the feeling like you need to urinate but cannot, or urgent urination can be early signs of bladder cancer. Abdominal and lower back pain can also be indicative of bladder cancer, so if you notice this along with other symptoms, you will want to get it checked out.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should not hesitate to speak to your doctor. However, these symptoms do not definitively indicate the presence of cancer in the bladder. These symptoms are also associated with bladder infections, inflammation, and more. Stay calm and seek help to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Most bladder cancers are caught relatively early, making them treatable. However, once a patient has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, the risk for relapse remains, and continual testing is necessary to monitor and ensure the cancer does not return.
Signs that the bladder cancer returned or spread, the tumors are large, or that the cancer is at an advanced stage include:
- Pain in the bones
- Swelling of the feet
- Pain in the back
- Blood in the urine
Bladder cancer ranges within four stages of severity. Your doctor will determine the stage based on the tumors, whether or not the cancer is present in lymph nodes, and if the cancer has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body). The stage of the bladder cancer helps to determine the treatment plan moving forward.
If your doctor suspects bladder cancer, he will run a specific urine test that allows technicians to look for the presence of cancer cells in the urine under a microscope. Additionally, your doctor may require a CT scan, a physical exam, a biopsy, and X-rays. Your doctor will also need to determine the specific type of bladder cancer. There are three different types:
- Urothelial carcinoma: This refers to the cells in the lining of the bladder and can include tumors.
- Adenocarcinoma: This kind of bladder cancer originates in the mucus-secreting glands of the bladder and is very rare.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: An infection or even a parasite often cause this. Squamous cell carcinoma can also stem from long-term use of a catheter.
Doctors are determining bladder cancer treatment plans based on a variety of different factors, including the type of bladder cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s overall health. Treatment plans for bladder cancer include immunotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Patients diagnosed with low-level bladder cancers typically survive five or more years. Advanced bladder cancer patients usually can live 12-18 months after diagnosis. The most important thing you can do if you suspect bladder cancer is to seek help from your doctor. People who ignore symptoms or allow them to develop without actively seeking treatment put themselves at risk for developing more advanced bladder cancer, and increase the risk for the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. If you see early signs and symptoms, the sooner you treat it, the better your prognosis will be and your chances of survival.
If you notice any signs of bladder cancer, you should head to your doctor immediately for testing to determine the cause. It is not always known what causes bladder cancer; therefore, it is not always preventable. Genetics, environment, lifestyle, and a multitude of seen and unseen factors can cause bladder cancer, so identifying early signs and symptoms is often tricky. Lowering your risk by not smoking, avoiding dangerous chemicals, drinking plenty of water, and maintaining a healthy diet full of vegetables is a great place to start. If you are over the age of 40, it is best to seek regular check-ups with your doctor, especially if you have a history of bladder infections or inflammation.