What Is Bladder Cancer?

The bladder is a hollow, flexible pouch in your pelvis. Its main job is to store urine before it leaves your body. Your kidneys make pee. Tubes called ureters carry the pee from your kidneys to your bladder. When you use the bathroom, the muscles in your bladder push the urine out through a tube called the urethra.

You get bladder cancer when bladder cells become abnormal and grow out of control. Over time, a tumor forms. It can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other organs. In severe cases, it can spread to distant parts of your body, including your bones, lungs, or liver.

Bladder cancer is rare. It accounts for just 5% of all new cancers in the U.S.

What Causes It?

Doctors aren’t sure. But they do know that several things increase your risk for the disease. They include:

Genetic makeup, race, and family history. Bladder cancer is most common in white men over age 55. If you or someone in your immediate family (parents or siblings) has had cancer of the bladder or the urinary tract before, you’re more likely to get it.

Chronic bladder inflammation. If you have bladder infections that keep coming back or another condition that causes your bladder to be irritated for long periods of time, you stand a better chance of getting bladder cancer.

Smoking . Every time you inhale tobacco fumes, you’re taking in all kinds of harmful chemicals. Research shows that smoking is the cause of about 50% of all bladder cancers.

Working around harmful chemicals. People who work in certain industries (painters, machinists, printers, hairdressers, and truck drivers, among others) may be exposed to harmful chemicals for long periods of time. This can increase their risk of disease.

Taking certain diabetes medications. If you’ve taken pioglitazone (Actos) for more than a year, you may stand a greater chance of getting bladder cancer. Other diabetes meds that contain pioglitazone (Actoplus Met and Duetact) can also raise your risk.

Prior chemo or radiation treatment. If you’ve had radiation therapy to your pelvis, you’re more likely to develop bladder cancer. The same is true if you’ve taken the chemo medication cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) for a long time.

Outlook

The 5-year survival rate for bladder cancer is about 77%. That means that about 7 out of 10 people who are diagnosed with the disease will still be alive 5 years later. But that’s just an estimate. Your outcome is based on your unique situation. That includes things like your age, overall health, how early the cancer was found, and how well it responds to treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 18, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Bladder Cancer Risk Factors; “Key Statistics for Bladder Cancer,” “What Is Bladder Cancer?” “Survival Rates for Bladder Cancer;” and "Cancer Facts & Figures, 2018."

Mayo Clinic: “Bladder Cancer.”

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