Spotting the Early Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer is a fairly common cancer. In fact, according to Mayo Clinic, it is one of the most common cancers which affects about 68,000 adults in the United States every single year. Cells that make up the urinary bladder, otherwise known as urothelial cells, may start to grow atypically or out of control. Instead of growing and dividing in a systematic and orderly fashion, the cells mutate and do not die. These cells can end up forming tumors. Non-cancerous, or benign, tumors are referred to as papillomas. Malignant, or cancerous, cells that originate in the bladder, a hollow and muscular organ found in the lower pelvic region, can eventually spread (or metastasize) throughout the body. Bladder cancer can also be referred to as urothelial carcinoma of the bladder or transitional cell carcinoma, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, but there are essentially several different types of bladder cancer. Urothelial carcinoma accounts for 90% of all identified cases of bladder cancer.
70% of bladder cancers are diagnosed within their earliest stages and are considered highly treatable. Despite this fairly encouraging prognosis, this form of cancer has a high recurrence rate, meaning people need to undergo follow-up tests for years following successful treatment to ensure cancer has not spread or advanced to a more serious stage.
Three groups of bladder cancer are typically identified to indicate how much the bladder wall has already been affected by cancerous cells. Non-invasive bladder cancer remains in the inner lining of the bladder, otherwise known as the urothelium. Non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer has mutated and expanded beyond the inner lining and now affects the connective tissue layer, also referred to as the lamina propria. Finally, muscle-invasive bladder cancer is one that has grown beyond these areas to spread in the deeper muscles of the bladder wall, also known as the muscularis propria. The fat surrounding the bladder is also sometimes affected by this aggressive form of cancer.
One of the early signs and symptoms of the disease may involve finding blood in the urine, otherwise called hematuria. With this medical issue, urine might be bright red, orange, pink, brown, or have no apparently visible abnormality. Blood traces in urine can be so minute that they are not visible to the human eye but they can still be identified while undergoing a microscopic exam of a urine sample. Some people also experience pain while urinating and pain in the pelvic region. The following signs and symptoms may occur due to bladder cancer but they may also be related to other illnesses and therefore may not be indicative of bladder cancer at all: frequent urination, urgent urination, difficulty urinating, and occasionally lower back pain. Many symptoms don’t appear until the tumors are more advanced and have grown deeper into the wall of the bladder.
Although bladder cancer can develop at any age, most cases do not occur before 40. Men are more at risk than women. According to the Mayo Clinic, white people develop bladder cancer most frequently. Certain factors have been shown to increase risks of developing bladder cancer. Smoking and other tobacco use can increase the number of harmful chemicals that build up in the urine. The body is responsible for processing the chemicals created by the smoke and excreted in the urine. These chemicals may cause damage to the bladder lining and increase the risk of cancer. The risk is directly correlated to how long a person has smoked, how often, how much, and how old someone was when they started to smoke. Former smokers are also at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. Additionally, prolonged or systematic exposure to certain chemicals is believed to be a risk factor. The specific chemicals that have been linked to an increased risk of developing bladder cancer include arsenic, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, and chemicals to make dyes, paint products, rubber, textiles, and leather, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Medical experts identify previous cancer treatments with the anti-cancer drug cyclophosphamide as an additional risk factor, as it increases bladder irritation. Equally, having previously had radiation treatment aimed at the pelvic region also increases risk. Bladder cancer rarely runs in families. Doctors test for this type of cancer via a cystoscopy (inserting a small tube into the urethra to examine the urethra and bladder for signs of cancer), via biopsy (collecting a cell sample), via urine cytology (analysis of the urine), or via CT scans and X-ray.
Similar to many concerning medical conditions, it is always important to research and seek qualified medical advice when early signs and symptoms are noted. This article is intended as information only.
American Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society