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Bladder Cancer


Topic Overview

What is bladder cancer?

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the body. These extra cells grow together and form masses, called tumors. In bladder cancer, these growths happen in the bladder.

The bladder is the part of your urinary tract that stores your urine until you are ready to let it out. See a picture of the female urinary systemClick here to see an illustration. or male urinary systemClick here to see an illustration..

Bladder cancer can usually be successfully treated if it is found and treated early. And most bladder cancer is found early.

What causes bladder cancer?

We don't know what causes bladder cancer. But smoking cigarettes or being exposed to certain chemicals raises your risk. And like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role.

What are the symptoms?

Blood in the urine is the main symptom. Other symptoms may include having to urinate often or feeling pain when you urinate.

These symptoms can be caused by other problems, including a urinary tract infection. Always call your doctor if you see blood in your urine.

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

To diagnose bladder cancer, your doctor will:

  • Ask about your medical history and do a physical exam, including a vaginal or rectal exam.
  • Test your urine to look for blood or abnormal cells.
  • Do a cystoscopy, a test that lets your doctor look into your bladder with a thin, lighted viewing tool. Small tissue samples (biopsies) are taken and looked at under a microscope to find out if there are cancer cells.

How is it treated?

Treatment choices for bladder cancer include:

  • Surgery to remove any cancer. Sometimes lasers or other methods can be used to get rid of tumors.
  • Chemotherapy, which uses medicine to destroy cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy, which causes your body's natural defense system to attack bladder cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-dose X-rays to kill cancer cells.

The treatment depends a lot on how much the cancer has grown. Most bladder cancers are treated without having to remove the bladder.

Sometimes doctors do have to remove the bladder. For some people, this means having urine flow into a bag outside of the body. But in many cases, doctors can make a new bladder—using other body tissue—that works very much like the old one.

Bladder cancer often comes back. The new tumors can often be treated successfully if they are caught early. So it's very important to have regular checkups after your treatment is done.

It's common to feel scared, sad, or angry after finding out that you have bladder cancer. Talking to others who have had the disease may help you feel better. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area.

What increases your chances of getting bladder cancer?

Anything that increases your chances of getting a disease is called a risk factor. The main risk factors for bladder cancer include:

  • Smoking. Cigarette smokers are much more likely than other people to get bladder cancer.
  • Being older than 40, being male, or being white (Caucasian).
  • Being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, such as those used in the wood, rubber, and textile industries.
  • What you eat. A diet high in fried meats and fats increases your risk for bladder cancer.
  • Parasites. There is a parasite that causes schistosomiasis, which can increase your risk. This condition is sometimes found in developing countries and rarely occurs in North America.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about bladder cancer:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with bladder cancer:

End-of-life issues:

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