Overview – What is it?
Bladder cancer occurs when the cells inside the bladder begin to multiply rapidly and uncontrollably forming a tumour. The bladder is a hollow flexible pouch in the pelvis that stores urine. Some of the risk factors for this cancer are chronic bladder inflammation, smoking and exposure to radiation. Bladder cancer can bring about symptoms such as presence of blood in the urine, having a burning feeling when urinating and a change in urine colour. It can be diagnosed through a pelvic exam, urine test and cystoscopy, among other tests. Some of the ways to prevent bladder cancer include not smoking, eating healthy and taking lots of fluids.
Causes – What causes it?
Even though bladder cancer has no exact known cause, the following are some of the risk factors that increase the chance of developing this cancer:
- Diet: Eating a lot of processed foods and foods with a lot of fats can increase
- bladder cancer risk.
- Chemical exposure: Exposure to chemicals in the workplace such as in leather processing factories and some other industries can increase the risk of getting bladder cancer.
- Radiation exposure: Exposure to radiation which can occur at the work place or during treatment for other cancers. Chemotherapy treatment can also increase the risk of getting this cancer.
- Certain health conditions: Chronic bladder inflammation due to reoccurring infections or other conditions that cause bladder irritation can lead to cancer of the bladder.
- Certain medications: Certain diabetes medications such as pioglitazone can also lead to bladder cancer.
- Gender: Men are at a higher risk of getting bladder cancer than women.
- Personal and family history: Having a personal history of bladder cancer or having a close relative who has had bladder cancer before can also increase the risk for this cancer.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
These are some of the symptoms of bladder cancer:
- Presence of blood in the urine
- Frequent urination
- Pain during urination
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Feeling the need to urinate even when the bladder is not full
- Not being able to urinate when you feel like you need to
- Pain in the lower back
- Loss of weight
- Having swollen feet
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Physical exam: This is done during the initial consultation and may include a pelvic exam for women.
- Urine tests which include:
- Urine culture that is done to check whether a person has any infection that may be causing symptoms similar to those of bladder cancer.
- Urinalysis to check whether there is any blood in the urine.
- Urine cytology: Using a microscope to look at a urine sample and determine whether there are cancer cells present.
- Urine tumour maker test which is used to check for substances that the bladder cancer cells release.
- Cystoscopy: A cystoscope (a small thin tube with a light and camera) is inserted through the urethra into the bladder to check for any abnormalities such as tumours in the bladder.
- Transurethral resection of the bladder tumour (TURBT): This involves removing the tumour and some bladder muscles near it and examining the samples in a lab to check for cancer cells.
- Biopsy: This is done by taking a sample of the tumour and examining it under a microscope to determine whether it has any cancer cells.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment for bladder cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. The treatment options for this cancer are:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the cancer tumour depending on the stage of the cancer. The different bladder cancer surgeries are:
- Transurethral Resection (TUR): This surgery is done when the cancer is in the early stages to remove or destroy tumour(s) in the bladder. It is done using a cystoscope which is a thin light tube inserted through the urethra.
- Cystectomy: Done to remove the bladder when the cancer is wide-spread and can be in two forms, which are:
- Partial Cystectomy which is done to remove part of the bladder, especially in cases where the cancer is in one area of the bladder.
- Radical Cystectomy that is done to remove the entire bladder, the lymph nodes near it, the urethra and other organs that the cancer might have spread to.
- Urinary Diversion: When the bladder has been removed, this surgery is done to create a storage for urine. It can be done by creating a pouch from the intestines called a content reservoir or an ileal conduit which is an artificial opening that requires one to wear a flat bag to store urine.
Other treatments that can be done after surgery are:
- Chemotherapy: Using anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy: Using high-energy beams to kill or destroy cancer cells internally or externally.
- Immunotherapy: This treatment involves using drugs to boost the body’s immune system by making it aware of the cancer cells in the body which enables the body to fight the cancer.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
The prevention of bladder cancer focuses on reducing the risk factors as there is no specific cause of the cancer. You can reduce the risk factors by:
- Not smoking
- Eating a balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits and less processed foods
- Taking lots of fluids
- Avoiding exposure to chemicals that increase bladder cancer risk
- Getting regular check-ups especially if you are at a high risk of getting bladder cancer
- Avoiding exposure to radiation in the workplace