Bladder cancer can affect anyone, though according to the National Cancer Institute
, the disease primarily affects patients over the age of 55. Men are more likely
than women to develop bladder cancer, and the disease tends to affect whites
more often than African Americans or Hispanic Americans. As with most types of cancer, early detection is key; bladder cancer that has not progressed outside of the bladder has a much higher rate of survival
compared to cancer that has advanced to the lymph nodes or other organs. However, regular screenings for bladder cancer are generally not recommended
unless you have a family history of bladder cancer or have been exposed to certain chemicals in the workplace or in drinking water.
Cigarette smokers are at particularly high risk for developing bladder cancer; in fact, smokers are at least three times as likely
to develop the disease as nonsmokers. When toxins from inhaled cigarette smoke enter the bloodstream, the kidneys process these substances
into urine, which then sits in the bladder for sometimes hours at a time. This prolonged exposure to potentially cancer-causing toxins in the bladder lining dramatically increases the risk for developing bladder cancer. Fortunately, risk for bladder cancer (as well as other types of cancer) begins to diminish
gradually when a smoker quits.
In honor of National Bladder Cancer Awareness Month in May, we wanted to examine a few potential early warning signs for bladder cancer. Remember, many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions completely unrelated to bladder cancer; the presence of the following symptoms should not be used for diagnosis, but may indicate a need to consult with your doctor.
Blood in your urine.
Bladder cancer can often be diagnosed early
, because it can cause blood to appear in the urine. Depending on the amount of blood, urine may appear orange, pink or even dark red. When a bladder cancer tumor is small, blood may be present in urine without any associated pain or discomfort, and it may disappear for days
or even weeks at a time before coming back.
If you notice any blood or clotting in your urine, see your health care provider right away. Remember that blood in the urine can be caused by many different conditions
unrelated to cancer, including an infection, kidney or bladder stones, and other diseases that affect the kidneys. Still, any blood in the urine means that it’s time to talk to a doctor for additional testing.
Changes in urination.
Bladder cancer may cause more subtle changes
in your bathroom habits, including the frequent need to urinate, pain or an urgent sensation to go, even when your bladder is empty. Some patients also report trouble urinating, a weak urine stream or needing to get up several times during the night in order to go to the bathroom. These symptoms are more likely
to be related to a urinary tract infection, bladder stones or an enlarged prostate, but your doctor can help find the cause and recommend treatment.
Blood in the urine or changes to urinary function should always be taken seriously; don’t assume that the problem is benign or will go away on its own. Again, many of these symptoms are likely to be caused by something other than cancer; your doctor will recommend additional testing, which may include a physical exam, urine testing, CT scans and/or MRIs to help make the appropriate diagnosis.