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 have a bigger risk 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.

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Can You Prevent Bladder Cancer?

These three simple lifestyle changes may cut your risk of bladder cancer:

  • If you smoke, stop. Doctors believe tobacco products cause about half of all bladder cancer cases.
  • Drink lots of fluids. When you pee, you get rid of harmful chemicals that build up in your bladder. So drink up -- especially water. It may lower your cancer risk.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies. Studies show that eating lots of fruits and green, leafy vegetables lowers your risk for many types of cancer. It may help cut your risk for bladder cancer, too.

Your risk for bladder cancer can also be increased by certain workplace chemicals, arsenic, aniline (a coal tar-derived product used to make drugs, dyes, and plastics), certain diabetes medicines, and some herbal supplements. Follow all workplace safety rules, and ask your doctor about any specific risk factors you may have.

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 Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 18, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Bladder Cancer Risk Factors,” “Key Statistics for Bladder Cancer,” “What Is Bladder Cancer?” “Survival Rates for Bladder Cancer,” "Cancer Facts & Figures, 2018,” “Can Bladder Cancer Be Prevented?”

Mayo Clinic: “Bladder Cancer.”

NHS Choices: “Preventing Bladder Cancer.”

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