Affecting an average of 80,000 people per year, bladder cancer is a form of cancer that begins in the lining of the bladder. Fortunately, most forms of bladder cancer are diagnosed at early stages. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately half of bladder cancers are found in the inner layer of the bladder wall, before they spread into the deeper layers of the bladder. An early diagnosis makes them much easier to treat and increases the 5-year survival rate from 77 percent to 96 percent. If you suspect you may have early signs of bladder cancer, speak to your physician about early intervention and treatment.
Bladder cancer often starts in the cells of the bladder’s inner wall, but can also begin in the ureters (tube-like structures) that connect the kidneys to the bladder. The cells in these areas start growing beyond normal rates, eventually leading to tumors and, in some cases, spreading to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes, bones, lungs, and more.
Like many forms of cancer, the longer bladder cancer remains undetected; the greater the chances are that it spreads to other areas of the body. Unfortunately, there are no specific signs that indicate bladder cancer, but there are symptoms that could lead you to rule out a bladder cancer diagnosis.
Symptoms that require urological evaluation:
• Blood in the urine
• Frequent urination (feeling the need to urinate even when the bladder isn’t full, needing to urinate more than usual, etc.)
• Burning urination
• Persistent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
These symptoms don’t necessarily indicate bladder cancer, rather, they’re often indicative of more common bladder disorders including urinary tract infections (UTIs), bladder stones, overactive bladder, and more. No matter the cause, these symptoms, if lasting for several weeks, should prompt you to seek the attention of a urologist to rule out serious illness like bladder cancer.
Preventing Bladder Cancer
There is no way to completely prevent bladder cancer. Understanding the risk factors associated with bladder cancer is crucial for the prevention of the disease. There are a few risk factors that increase your chance of developing bladder cancer. Those with risk factors won’t necessarily get bladder cancer, but will increase your likelihood of developing bladder cancer.
Modifiable Risk Factors:
One of the easiest risk factors under your control is smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, people who smoke are three times more likely to get bladder cancer.
• Workplace Chemical Exposure
Working in close proximity to factory smoke or industrial chemicals could lead to the development of bladder cancer. Working in factories, laundromats, chemical plants, and dye factories could lead to carcinogen exposure. Additions, painters, printers, hairdressers, and other professionals who handle chemicals on a regular basis run the risk of increased carcinogen exposure.
An unhealthy amount of fatty, processed foods could increase your risk of developing cancer.
Unmodifiable Risk Factors:
According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancer mainly affects those of advanced age. In fact, they found that approximately nine in 10 people with bladder cancer were over the age of 55.
Bladder cancer is more common among men than women. In fact, bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer for men, but far less common for women.
• Family History
Those who have family members with bladder cancer are more likely to also develop bladder cancer themselves.
While not all risk factors are controllable, knowing you have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer can help you to act with greater caution, monitor symptoms and test early to ensure bladder cancer is found in its early stages.
“The most important thing is to be knowledgeable about it, understand it, and make sure to get evaluated,” said Urologist Ifeanyi J. Ani, MD of TPMG Urology in Newport News. If you have symptoms that require urological evaluation, don’t overlook them.
If a patient presented with blood in their urine, your doctor might suggest you complete a hematuria workup, which entails a special CT scan to study the kidney and ureters and a cystoscopy. These tests will rule out other pathologies that could lead to blood in the urine, including kidney stones, tumors, or other disorders. Additionally, your doctor might order a urine cytology, a test to identify cancer cells in your urine.
If your doctor identifies a tumor in the bladder, the next step would likely be the removal of the tumor. Your doctor will perform an endoscopic procedure to resect (cut out) the tumor. After the procedure, your doctor will send the resected tumor to a pathologist who will provide important information about your tumor that will help guide treatment decisions. What your doctors are doing is determining if your tumor is high grade or low graded and to what extent is it involving the layers of your bladder. Superficial tumors won’t require as aggressive treatment as others. After removal of the tumor, you may require routine cystoscopy over several years to monitor for future recurrence.
Higher-grade disease will require further, possibly more aggressive treatment. Your doctor can discuss your options following testing.
Like many forms of cancer, bladder cancer can recur even after tumor removal or other interventions. Following up with your urologist on a routine basis ensures you don’t overlook a recurrence. Unfortunately, it’s common for patients who have already undergone cancer treatment to stop following up. The problem being that bladder cancer doesn’t always lead to blood in the urine or any other noticeable symptoms.
Ifeanyi J. Ani, MD
Ifeanyi J. Ani, MD, is a certified Urologist with TPMG Urology in Newport News. He is highly skilled at treating a variety of conditions including urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), kidney stones, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and urinary stricture disease. In addition to his in-office care, Dr. Ani is experienced in minimally invasive robotic and laparoscopic surgeries for benign and oncological diseases. He finds the field of urology to be particularly fascinating for its use of new technology such as the DaVinci Robot for minimally invasive surgery.
Dr. Ani joined TPMG Newport News Urology in 2014.