Each year, almost 71,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed in this country. Men, Caucasians and smokers have twice the risk of bladder cancer as the general population. Almost all the people who develop bladder cancer are over 55 years old. When it is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, bladder cancer is usually highly treatable.
The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower abdomen. It stores urine, the waste that is produced when the kidneys filter the blood. The bladder has an elastic and muscular wall that allows it to get larger and smaller as urine is stored or emptied.
Urine passes from the two kidneys into the bladder through tubes called ureters. Urine leaves the bladder through another tube called the urethra. The urethra is longer in men than women.
Bladder cancer begins in the inside layer of the bladder and grows into the walls, becoming more difficult to treat.
Bladder Cancer Types
Bladder cancer is classified based on the type of cells it contains. The main types of bladder cancer are:
Transitional cell bladder cancer: About 90% of bladder cancers are transitional cell carcinomas – cancers that begin in the urothelial cells, which line the inside of the bladder. Cancer that is confined to the lining of the bladder is called non-invasive bladder cancer.
Squamous cell bladder cancer: This type of bladder cancer begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that may form in the bladder after long-term infection or irritation. These cancers occur less often than transitional cell cancers, but they may be more aggressive.
Adenocarcinoma: Bladder cancer that develops in the inner lining of the bladder as a result of chronic irritation and inflammation. This type of bladder cancer tends to be aggressive.
In rare cases, bladder cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.
Bladder Cancer Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting bladder cancer is a risk factor. These include:
Smoking tobacco: This is the greatest risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers, including pipe and cigar smokers, are two to three times more likely than nonsmokers to get bladder cancer. Chemicals in tobacco smoke are absorbed into the blood, and then they pass through the kidneys and collect in the urine. These chemicals can damage the inside of the bladder and increase your chances of getting bladder cancer.
Age: The chance of developing bladder cancer increases with age, and it is uncommon in people under 40.
Race: Bladder cancer occurs twice as often in Caucasians as it does in African-Americans and Hispanics. Asians have the lowest rate of developing the disease.
Gender: Men are up to four times as likely as women to get bladder cancer.
Personal history of bladder cancer: Bladder cancer has a 50% to 80% chance of returning after treatment. This is the highest of any cancer, including skin cancer.
Exposure to chemicals: People who work around certain chemicals are more likely to get bladder cancer. These include:
- People who work in the rubber, chemical and leather industries
- Machinists and metal workers
- Textile workers
- Truck drivers
- People who work at dry cleaning businesses
Infections: People infected with certain parasites, which are more common in tropical climates, have an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Treatment with cyclophosphamide or arsenic: These drugs, which are used in the treatment of cancer and other conditions, raise the risk of bladder cancer. Arsenic in drinking water may increase risk too.
Chronic bladder problems: Infections and kidney stones may be risk factors, but no direct link has been established.
History of taking a fangchi, a Chinese herb
Having a kidney transplant
Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome)
Not everyone with risk factors gets bladder cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.