May – Bladder Cancer Awareness Month

May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month. As the weather starts to warm up, it's a time to raise extra awareness and promote facts about this disease. Education and raising the public's awareness about bladder cancer is an important part of moving closer to a cure.

Bladder cancer is the 6th most common cancer affecting approximately 535,000 people across the United States. Yearly, it's estimated that 70,000 new cases will be reported, according to the American Bladder Cancer Society.

Anybody can get bladder cancer, but it is most common in older adults (over 60-65 years old). Some risk factors for getting bladder cancer include:

  • Smoking.
  • Radiation therapy in the pelvic area.
  • Arsenic in drinking water.
  • Chemicals in the workplace.
  • Hairdressers, painters, printers and dry-cleaners are also at risk for bladder cancer due to the long-term exposure of harmful chemicals.

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is painless blood in the urine. Although blood may be visible, in most cases it is unseen except under a microscope. In these cases, blood is found when your urine is tested by your health care provider. Blood alone does not mean that you have bladder cancer. There could be many reasons for blood in the urine, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. Microscopic amounts of blood might even be normal in some people. Frequent or painful urination is less common. If you have these symptoms, and do not have a urinary tract infection, you should talk to your health care provider to find out if bladder cancer is the cause.

Bladder cancer most often begins in the cells (urothelial cells) that line the inside of your bladder — the hollow, muscular organ in your lower abdomen that stores urine. Although it's most common in the bladder, this same type of cancer can occur in other parts of the urinary tract drainage system. About seven out of every 10 bladder cancers diagnosed start out at an early stage — when bladder cancer is highly treatable. However, even early-stage bladder cancer may recur in the bladder. For this reason, people with bladder cancer typically need follow-up tests for years after treatment to look for bladder cancer that recurs or advances to a higher stage.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, treatment options for bladder cancer depend on a number of factors, including the type of cancer, grade of the cancer and stage of the cancer, which are taken into consideration along with your overall health and your treatment preferences. Bladder cancer treatment may include:

  • Surgery, to remove cancerous tissue
  • Chemotherapy in the bladder (intravesical chemotherapy), to treat tumors that are confined to the lining of the bladder but have a high risk of recurrence or progression to a higher stage
  • Reconstruction, to create a new way for urine to exit the body after bladder removal
  • Chemotherapy for the whole body (systemic chemotherapy), to increase the chance for a cure in a person having surgery to remove the bladder, or as a primary treatment in cases where surgery isn't an option
  • Radiation therapy, to destroy cancer cells, often as a primary treatment in cases where surgery isn't an option or isn't desired
  • Immunotherapy, to trigger the body's immune system to fight cancer cells, either in the bladder or throughout the body

A combination of treatment approaches may be recommended by your doctor and members of your care team.