Cancer in general is an abnormal overgrowth of the body’s cells. The overgrowth can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancer cells form tumors and they can grow in many places. In bladder cancer, tumors form in the bladder. This is the area of your urinary tract that holds urine. This type of cancer is easily treated if diagnosed early in the disease.
There are around 535,000 men and women in the United States alone that have been diagnosed and treated for bladder cancer. It is the 8th most common types of cancer in the body. This article will help you understand the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer and how it is treated.
What is Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer starts out in the bladder, the organ that holds your urine. The cancer starts to grow from the cells that make up the lining of the bladder. It is most commonly found in older people, but anyone can get it. The good news is this type of cancer is usually diagnosed very early in the disease and because of that it tends to be easy to treat. However, there tends to be a high rate of this cancer coming back so patients need to be followed very closely.
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
The symptoms of bladder cancer are very obvious and will almost always lead someone straight to their doctor for evaluation. If you notice any of the following symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible:
Blood in the urine (very visible and in large amounts)
Bleeding that comes and goes when you urinate
Mild incontinence (inability to hold the urine)
Unable to urinate
Swelling in the feet and ankles
Cough with bloody phlegm
Bladder Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
Researchers do not know the definite cause of bladder cancer, but certain factors are associated including:
Smoking Exposure to cigarette smoke can increase the risk of bladder cancer. As a matter of fact, smoking doubles the risk of getting bladder cancer.
Chemical Exposure People who are exposed to certain cancer causing chemicals like rubber, textiles, leather dyes, paints, and metals.
Inflammation Inflammation of the bladder can lead to bladder cancer. You are at risk if you get frequent bladder infections, stones, or have a history of bladder tumors that are non-cancerous.
Nitrates The nitrates in smoked meats may increase the risk of bladder cancer.
Genetics If you have a family history of bladder cancer or a family history of Lynch syndrome, you may be at higher risk.
Aristolochia Fangchi (Chinese Herb) Use of this herb as a weight loss supplement may raise the risk of bladder cancer.
Chemotherapy If you have had chemotherapy to treat another type of cancer, it has been linked to the development of bladder cancer.
Risk Factors Not Listed Above
Age over 40
Diabetic medication (Pioglitazone has been associated with an increased risk)
Diagnosing Bladder Cancer
If you have any of the above symptoms, see your doctor right away. Any severe or excessive bleeding that is constant, should be evaluated in the emergency room. If the bleeding is not constant, but happens intermittently make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. The doctor will check the following:
Take your medical and family history
Do a thorough examination with rectal, prostate or pelvic exam (women)
Order lab work complete Blood count, urine analysis, and imaging studies
There are a few studies that can help the doctor see what is going on in your bladder. These include:
Cystoscopy Your doctor will insert a lighted tube into your bladder and look for abnormal spots on the walls. Samples will be biopsied to check for cancer cells.
Intravenous Pyelogram The radiologist will inject dye into a vein so that when it passes from the kidneys to the bladder, abnormalities can be more easily seen.
Ultrasound This can visualize the bladder and associated structures.
Treatment for Bladder Cancer
You will sit down with your doctor and come up with a treatment plan. The doctor will want to move very quickly to start treatment and for good reason. Make sure you ask lots of questions and educate yourself as much as you can. Treatment for bladder cancer depends on the stage it is at. The doctor will use one of the following or a combination of them:
Intravesical Therapy (immune therapy to fight the cancer injected directly into the bladder)
There is a high rate of recurrence with bladder cancer so often the doctor will opt to do a radical cystectomy, which is removal of the entire bladder right away. They rebuild the bladder out of a pouch cut from your intestines. This is one way to prevent recurrence, but there are some side-effects to this treatment including electrolyte imbalances, bowel obstructions, kidney obstructions, infections, and scar tissue formation.
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