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Bladder Cancer

What is Bladder Cancer?

Female Urinary Tract
Female urinary tract
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the body. These extra cells grow together and form masses called tumors. In bladder cancer, these tumors form in the bladder. The bladder is where urine (liquid waste made by the kidneys) is stored in the body.

In 2015, more than 74,000 Americans will be diagnosed with bladder cancer. Men are almost 4 times more likely than women to be diagnosed. About 16,000 Americans will die of bladder cancer this year. Over time, doctors have made progress with better treatments, and more people survive.

To understand bladder cancer, it helps to know how the bladder normally works.

The Bladder

Male Urinary Tract
Male urinary tract
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

The bladder is a hollow, balloon-shaped organ, made mostly of muscle. It stores urine until you are ready to go to the bathroom to release it.

Urine is produced in the kidneys. It flows through tubes called ureters into the bladder. Urine leaves the body through the urethra. The bladder muscle helps you urinate by squeezing to force the urine out.

A thin surface layer called the urothelium lines the inside of the bladder. Next is a layer of loose connective tissue called the lamina propria. Covering that tissue is the bladder muscle. Outside the muscle is a layer of fat.

Layers of the Bladder
Layers of the bladder
Image © 2003 Fairman Studios, LLC.

What are the Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?

Hematuria (blood in the urine)

Blood in the urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. It is generally painless. Although blood may be visible, in most cases it is invisible except under a microscope. In these cases, blood is found when your urine is tested by your health care provider.

Blood alone does not mean that you have bladder cancer. There could be many reasons for blood in the urine, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. Microscopic amounts of blood might even be normal in some people.

Frequent Urination and Pain on Urination (dysuria)

Frequent or painful urination is less common. If you have these symptoms, and do not have a urinary tract infection, you should talk to your health care provider to find out if bladder cancer is the cause.

What Causes Bladder Cancer?

We don’t know all of the causes of bladder cancer, but there are certain things (known as risk factors) that can increase the chance of cancer developing.

Smoking

Cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking increases your risk of bladder cancer. In fact, half of all bladder cancer cases in the United States are caused by cigarette smoke. Bladder cancer develops in smokers 2 to 3 times more than in nonsmokers.

When you smoke, you inhale chemicals from the tobacco. The chemicals move from your lungs into your blood. Your kidneys filter the chemicals out of your blood and send them to your bladder. Over time, these chemicals can damage the cells that line the inside of your bladder. This damage increases the chance of cancer developing.

Chemicals in the Workplace

Long-term exposure to chemicals used to make plastics, paints, textiles, leather and rubber may also cause bladder cancer. Hairdressers, machinists, printers, painters and truck drivers may be at risk for bladder cancer. Chemicals may cause about 23 out of every 100 bladder cancer cases. Like the chemicals in cigarette smoke, these chemicals (carcinogens) can remain in the bladder for a few hours before you urinate. In that way, the bladder becomes a place where cancer can develop.

Other Risk Factors

  • Frequent or long lasting bladder infections
  • Certain drugs for other cancers, such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®)
  • Radiation therapy in the pelvic area, such as for cervical cancer or prostate cancer
  • High levels of arsenic in drinking water

More than 90% of all bladder cancers begin in the inner lining of the bladder (urothelium). Most tumors in the bladder stay in this area or in the next layer (the lamina propria) and don’t move into the bladder muscle.

Adopted from Urology care foundation