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Bladder Cancer (cont.)

What Causes and Risk Factors of Bladder Cancer?

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We do not know exactly what causes bladder cancer. Bladder cancer may develop related to changes in DNA (the material in cells that makes up genes and controls how cells work). These changes may turn on certain genes, oncogenes, that will tell the cells to grow, divide, and stay alive, or turn off suppressor genes, genes that control the division of cells, repair of mistakes in the DNA, and death of cells. Changes in genes may be inherited (passed on from parents) or acquired as a result of certain risk factors.

A number of chemicals (carcinogens) have been identified that are potential causes, especially in cigarette smoke. We do know that the following factors increase a person's risk of developing a bladder cancer:

  • Tobacco Smoking: Smoking is the single greatest risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers are at least three times more likely to develop bladder cancer as nonsmokers. Smoking cessation is key to lessening the risk of relapse especially in superficial bladder cancer.
  • Chemical exposures at work: People who regularly work with certain chemicals or in certain industries have a greater risk of bladder cancer than the general population. Organic chemicals called aromatic amines are particularly linked with bladder cancer. These chemicals are used in the dye industry. Other industries linked to bladder cancer include rubber and leather processing, textiles, hair coloring, paints, and printing. Strict workplace protections can prevent much of the exposure that is believed to cause cancer.
  • Diet: People whose diets include large amounts of fried meats and animal fats are thought to be at higher risk of bladder cancer. Not drinking enough fluids, especially water, each day may increase the risk of bladder cancer. The data regarding the effects of coffee on the risk of developing bladder cancer are variable; however, currently coffee consumption is actually thought to decrease the risk of several cancers.
  • Medications: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), use of the diabetes medication pioglitazone (Actos) for more than one year may increase the risk of developing bladder cancer. Prior chemotherapy with the medication cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) also can increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Pelvic radiation for cancers of the pelvic organs (prostate, uterus, cervix, and colon/rectum) may increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Arsenic in the drinking water, although not typically a problem in the United States, may also increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Aristolochia fangchi: This herb is used in some dietary supplements and Chinese herbal remedies. People who took this herb as part of a weight loss program had higher rates of bladder cancer and kidney failure than the general population. Scientific studies on this herb have shown that it contains chemicals that can cause cancer in rats.

These are factors you can do something about. You can stop smoking, learn to avoid workplace chemical exposures, or change your diet. You cannot do anything about the following risk factors for bladder cancer:

  • Age: Seniors are at the highest risk of developing bladder cancer.
  • Sex: Men are three times more likely than women to have bladder cancer.
  • Race: Whites have a much higher risk of developing bladder cancer than other races.
  • History of bladder cancer: If you have had bladder cancer in the past, your risk of developing another bladder cancer is higher than if you had never had bladder cancer.
  • Chronic bladder inflammation: Frequent bladder infections, bladder stones, chronic indwelling urinary catheters (Foley catheters), and other urinary tract problems that irritate the bladder increase the risk of developing a cancer, more commonly squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Infection with a parasite (a worm), schistosomiasis, can increase the risk of bladder cancer. Schistosomiasis is common in Egypt and also noted in Africa and the Middle East.
  • Birth defects: The urachus is a connection between the belly button (umbilicus) and the bladder in the fetus that typically disappears before birth, but if part of the connection remains after birth, it can become cancerous with a type of cancer called a urachal adenocarcinoma. A rare birth defect, bladder exstrophy, in which the bladder and belly wall are open and the bladder is exposed outside of the body, can increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Genetics and family history: Those individuals with family members with bladder cancer are at increased risk of developing bladder cancer. Several genetic syndromes are associated with an increased risk of developing bladder cancer, including defects in the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene, Cowden disease, and Lynch syndrome.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2016
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