What Is Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, causing over 300,000 new cases each year. It is more prevalent in adults over 60 years of age, especially in the men.
May is bladder awareness month; a time when more awareness is created on bladder cancer to help people understand the facts behind this type of cancer which can assist them to fight it or prevent themselves from developing it. Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the tissues of the bladder when cells begin to grow rapidly and uncontrollably.
Types of Bladder Cancer
The main type of bladder cancer is urothelial carcinoma also known as transitional cell carcinoma which accounts for over 90% of bladder cancer cases and occurs in the cells of the inner lining of the bladder. Other types of bladder cancers are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma which occurs due to chronic irritation of the bladder after long-term use of a urinary catheter, that is a flexible tube used to collect urine from the bladder.
- Adenocarcinoma which starts in the cells of the mucus-secreting glands in the bladder. It is the rarest type of bladder cancer.
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
The symptoms of bladder cancer include:
- Blood in the urine, which is the most common symptom. The blood can either be visible to the naked eye or under a microscope. This can cause; change in urine colour to a darker red, pink or orange
- Feeling like urinating even when your bladder is not full
- Urinating more often than usual
- Having a burning sensation when passing urine
- Not being able to pass urine or passing very little of it
When the bladder cancer begins to spread, the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Pain in the lower back
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling of the feet
- Bone pain
- Extreme fatigue
Causes of Bladder Cancer
Like most cancers, bladder cancer has no exact known cause, however, there are some risk factors which include:
- Smoking: Smoking is a risk factor for many cancers including bladder cancer.
- Taking certain medications: Some medications such as pioglitazone used for diabetes, can increase bladder cancer risk when used for a long period.
- Exposure to toxic chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals such as dyes, pesticides and aluminium can increase the risk of developing bladder cancer.
- Radiation exposure: Being exposed to radiation especially as a result of radiation treatment for other cancers like cervical cancer, increases bladder cancer risk.
- Age: People above 55-60 years are at a higher risk of developing this cancer compared to younger people.
- Family history: If a close family member has had bladder cancer in the past, you are at a higher risk of developing it as well.
- Personal history with cancer: Having cancer of any part of the urinary tract increases the risk of developing bladder cancer.
- Insufficient fluids: Not drinking enough fluids can also increase bladder cancer risk because that could increase chemicals in the bladder.
- Birth defects: Having defects of the bladder such as exstrophy, that involves absence of a portion of the abdominal or bladder wall, increase a person’s risk of getting bladder cancer.
Diagnosis of Bladder Cancer
- Initial inquiry: During this, the doctor finds out your medical and family history so as to understand your risk factors. The doctor will also carry out a
- physical exam; a pelvic exam or a digital rectal exam to check for any abnormalities in the rectum like the presence of a tumor.
- Urine test to check for any blood or other substances in the urine (urinalysis) and to check for cancer cells in the urine (urine cytology).
- Urine culture: This involves taking a sample of urine and storing it in a lab for a few days after which the doctor can tell whether a person has bladder cancer depending on the germs that will have grown in the urine.
- Urine tumor maker test: This test is used to look for substances released by bladder cancer cells. It can be used together with urine cytology to determine if a person has bladder cancer.
- Cystoscopy: It involves checking the inside of the bladder using a thin flexible tube fitted with a light and camera. Salt water is injected into the bladder through the tube to make the inner lining of the bladder more visible.
- Biopsy: This test involves removing a tumor from the bladder and checking it under a microscope to determine whether it is cancerous by identifying cancer cells in it.
- Imaging tests: These tests are used to take images of the inside of the bladder. Some of the imaging tests used include Ultrasound, Intravenous pyelogram (IVP), Computerised tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scan and chest x-ray. An MRI scan gives more detailed images.
- Surgery is done to remove tumors depending on which stage the cancer is in. The types of surgeries used for this cancer are:
1. Transurethral Resection (TUR): It is the most common surgery for bladder cancer and involves removing the tumor in the bladder when the cancer is in its early stage. A cystoscope is used in this procedure.
2.Cystectomy: This procedure is used to remove the bladder when the cancer is wide spread.
3. Urinary diversion: Once the bladder is removed, this surgery is performed to create a storage for urine; by creating a pouch from the intestines (content reservoir) or an artificial opening (ileal conduit) which requires one to wear a flat bag to store urine.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment involves using anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells in the body; the drugs can be taken orally or through injection.
- Radiotherapy: It involves using high-energy beams to kill or destroy cancer cells preventing them from growing and continuing to spread.
- Immunotherapy: Using drugs to boost the body’s immune system, making it aware of the presence of cancer cells in the body and thereby being able to fight the cancer.
There is no specific way to prevent yourself from getting bladder cancer. However, you can reduce the risk factors for this type of cancer by:
- Not smoking
- Avoiding or limiting exposure to certain chemicals especially at the workplace by wearing protective clothing
- Eating healthy; more vegetables and fruits
- Taking lots of fluids especially water to get rid of harmful chemicals in the bladder
- Getting regular check-ups especially if you are at a high risk of developing bladder cancer
International Medical Treatment Ltd (IMT) appreciates the importance of educating people on health issues and that is why we continue to share information on different health conditions. Staying informed is the best way of fighting many issues including health related ones like bladder cancer. This month shine a light on bladder cancer by passing this information to as many people as possible.