The bladder is a muscular, balloon-like organ in the lower abdomen. Its primary function is to collect and store urine excreted by the kidneys. As the bladder fills with urine, its muscle wall expands until the organ reaches its fluid capacity. At this point, the wall contracts as a urinary control muscle (sphincter) relaxes to expel the urine through a small tube called the urethra.
Bladder cancer occurs when cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis arise in the bladder. These cells, having undergone an anomalous transformation that causes them to proliferate abnormally, result in a structure called a neoplasm. If this neoplasm results in the destruction of adjacent tissues, and/or the spreading of the anomalous cells to other areas of the body, a cancer is formed.
The majority of all bladder cancers are transitional cell carcinomas, or cancers that originate in the cells composing the inner lining of the bladder. Squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers that arise from any of a number of thin, flat cells located throughout organ, also affect the bladder. Finally, and most rarely, adenocarcinomas, or cancers that affect cells that produce mucus and/or other fluids can impact the bladder.
Bladder cancers affect people of all ages, but most frequently occur in older adults. Fortunately, diagnosis is usually made when the cancer is at an early developmental stage, when it is considered to be a highly treatable disease. But even early stage bladder cancers are likely to recur. For this reason, people diagnosed with a bladder cancer usually undergo follow-up screenings for many years.
Bladder Cancer Risk Factors
- Smoking: When a person inhales tobacco smoke, they are forcing their body to process harmful chemicals, some of which accumulate in the urine. Concentrations of harmful chemicals in the urine can damage the inner lining of the bladder, resulting in an increased chance of developing a cancer.
- Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy: The anti-cancer drugs cyclophosphamide (Cyotoxan) and ifosfamide (Ifex) have been shown to increase a person’s chances of developing cancer. Studies have also shown that women treated with radiation therapy for cervical cancer are more likely to develop bladder cancer. Men, however, that are treated with radiation therapy for prostate cancer do not seem to be at greater risk of developing a cancer of the bladder.
- Family and Personal History of Bladder Cancer: Bladder cancers rarely run in families, but a genetic history of a disease known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) has been shown to elevate a person’s chances of developing cancers in the bladder, as well as in the colon, ovaries, uterus, and other parts of the urinary tract. Furthermore, people that have been diagnosed with bladder cancer have an elevated chance of developing the disease again.
- Chemical Exposure: Many harmful toxins in the body are filtered in the kidneys and sent to the bladder in the urine. Because of this, exposure to harmful chemicals may result in damage to the inner lining of the bladder. These chemicals include, but are not limited to, chemicals used to manufacture various dyes, rubbers, leather, textiles, paint products, and adhesives.
- Chronic Bladder Inflammation: Chronic urinary tract infections that result in the repeated or constant inflammation of the bladder may increase a person’s chances of developing bladder cancer. These infections are very common in individuals that use a urinary catheter for long periods of time.
- Bladder Birth Defects: Birth defects of the bladder, though rare, can result in the development of adenocarcinomas in the bladder.
- Gender: Men develop more bladder cancers than women.
- Age: Most bladder cancers occur in people over the age of 65, and rarely occur in individuals younger than 40.
- Ethnicity: Caucasians are diagnosed with more bladder cancers than any other race or ethnicity.
Bladder Cancer Outlook
Approximately 90% of patients diagnosed with early-stage bladder cancers survive for at least five years after treatment. However, fewer than 5% of patients with bladder cancers that have metastasized to other locations of the body survive for two years after diagnosis. The outlook for people with bladder cancers depends on the stage and time diagnosis, as well as their age and overall health.
Bladder Cancer Prevention
There is nothing a person can do to guarantee the prevention of bladder cancer. But there are several steps you can take to help reduce your chances of developing such a disease:
- Be Cautious of Chemicals: Always be aware of the chemicals that are around you and follow all pertinent safety instructions.
- Do Not Smoke: Smoking introduces harmful chemicals into your body, some of which will undoubtedly accumulate in the bladder. If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor about support groups, medications, and other methods that may help you quit.
- Drink Plenty of Water: Water dilutes harmful substances in the urine and helps flush them out more quickly.
- Eat Healthy: Consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may help reduce a person’s chances of developing bladder cancers.