What Is the Main Cause of Bladder Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/15/2021

Bladder cancer refers to the uncontrolled cell growth that begins in the bladder.
Bladder cancer refers to the uncontrolled cell growth that begins in the bladder.

This happens when an abnormal change (a mutation) in the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) causes the DNA to malfunction. The DNA is the one that instructs the cells when to divide, grow, or die. If the DNA present in the cells of the bladder malfunctions, cells go on dividing and growing excessively, and they fail to die at the expected rate. This causes a build-up of cells in the bladder that leads to harmful (malignant) bladder cancer.

What exactly causes bladder cancer is unknown. But certain factors have been seen to increase your risk of developing it. These include:

Male gender

Men are more likely to develop bladder cancer than women.

Increasing age

The risk of bladder cancer increases with age, especially after 55 years. More than 70 percent of people diagnosed with bladder cancer are older than 65 years.

Race

White people have twice the risk of developing bladder cancer as Black people. But if Black people get diagnosed with bladder cancer, they have double the chances of cancer becoming deadly.

Smoking

When you smoke cigarettes or cigars that contain nicotine, some amount of nicotine is also excreted in the urine. When this urine passes through the bladder, the nicotine can irritate the bladder, cause inflammation, and increase your chances of getting bladder cancer by four to seven times.

Contact with certain chemicals

Exposure to chemicals such as arsenic in drinking water has been linked to bladder cancer. Exposure depends on where you live and the water source. Certain chemicals used in the manufacture of dyes, leather, rubber, textiles, and paint products can also increase your risk of bladder cancer.

Chronic bladder infection

Previous cancer therapy

Certain cancer medications such as cyclophosphamide and radiation therapy that target the pelvic region make you more likely to get bladder cancer.

Personal or family history of cancer

If you had bladder cancer in the past, you are likely to get it again. Having someone in the family affected with bladder cancer may also make you at risk for the disease. However, the chances are rare with this risk factor.

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), can increase the risk of cancer in the urinary system. A family history of Lynch syndrome can also make you more likely to get bladder cancer. Other organs where cancer can develop include the colon, uterus, and ovaries.

Can you prevent bladder cancer?

There is no sure way to prevent bladder cancer. But you can take certain measures to lower your risk of developing it. These include the following:

  • Quit smoking: Cutting back on smoking may not only reduce the risk of bladder cancer but also help prevent other cancers and chronic diseases. Join a de-addiction program, join support groups, or talk with your doctor about various options available to help you kick the habit.
  • Play safe around chemicals: Follow all the safety precautions if you are involved in a job that involves contact with cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables, being rich in antioxidants, can lower your risk of bladder cancer.
  • Hydrate yourself well during cancer treatments: Drink extra fluids when you take medications such as cyclophosphamide.

If you have a family history of bladder cancer or Lynch syndrome, you can ask your doctor for cancer screening tests.

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References
Bladder cancer. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bladder-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20356104

Bladder Cancer: Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/bladder-cancer/risk-factors

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