What is bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer is a tumor (uncontrolled growth of cells) that starts in your urinary bladder. The urinary bladder is a balloon-like organ present in the lower abdomen near the pelvis. Its function is to store urine coming from the kidneys through the ureters (pipe-like passageways for urine) until it is expelled from the body through the tube-like passage called the urethra. Bladder cancer affects around 57,000 men and 18,000 women each year in the United States.
Depending upon the types of cells producing cancer, bladder cancer may be of several types. Transitional cell carcinoma, also called urothelial carcinoma, is the commonest type of bladder cancer. It starts in the innermost lining of the bladder, also called the transitional epithelium or urothelium. Advanced bladder cancer involves various layers of the bladder wall and may spread to nearby or distant structures such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bones.
What are the warning signs of bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer can at times be diagnosed early because it causes symptoms such as blood in the urine or other urinary symptoms. Signs of bladder cancer generally include:
- Blood in urine (also called hematuria). It is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. Finding blood in urine (apart from menstrual blood) often alarms the person and makes them seek medical attention. Bleeding may cause the urine to turn red, pink, or orange. There may be a few specks of blood in urine, whereas in some people, blood in normal-appearing urine may be detected on lab examination.
- Increased urine frequency
- Pain or burning while passing urine
- Back pain
- Pelvic pain
- Feeling of incomplete bowel emptying even after urination
- Thin urine stream
- Difficulty in passing urine
These symptoms may be caused by other benign (non-cancerous) conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or stones (calculi) in the bladder or kidney. Nonetheless, early diagnosis of bladder cancer provides better recovery. Hence, you must seek your physician’s help early. In advanced stages of bladder cancer, there may be additional symptoms such as unintended weight loss, reduced appetite, fatigue, lethargy, and even inability to urinate. If cancer spreads to other parts of the body, there may be symptoms related to the site involved such as bone pains, difficulty breathing, nausea, or vomiting.
What causes bladder cancer?
Uncontrolled growth of the cells begins from the cell that undergoes a sudden unusual change in its genetic makeup (mutation). In some people, there may be no apparent cause of bladder cancer, whereas in others, there may be the presence of one or more of the risk factors such as:
- Smoking or being exposed to passive smoke, which is the most crucial bladder cancer risk
- A family history of bladder cancer (bladder cancer in a parent, sibling, or child)
- Certain chemotherapy drugs
- Exposure to certain chemicals at the workplace such as chemicals used in dye, paint, rubber, leather, metal, or petroleum products manufacturing
- Consuming water contaminated with arsenic, especially seen in contaminated well water
- Consuming the Chinese herb Aristolochia fangchi
- Frequent or long-term urinary tract infection (UTI)
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