Most people know that lung cancer is directly related to cigarette usage, but few realize that smokers are also putting themselves at risk for bladder cancer. In fact, smoking more than doubles a person’s risk of getting this condition—the fourth most common cancer for men and twelfth most common for women. Those over age 40 are most at risk. Fortunately, early detection can lead to successful treatment.
Blood in the urine is usually the first sign of bladder cancer. Sometimes urination is painful or more frequent. Because these symptoms could signify a variety of conditions, your doctor will perform tests before delivering a diagnosis. These may include a blood test, an intravenous urogram (an X-ray of your kidneys, ureters and bladder) and a cystoscopy (a telescopic examination of your bladder).
Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will then determine the cancer’s grade (how fast it is progressing) and stage (the “level” to which it has progressed).
If the cancer is superficial, meaning it is restricted to the organ lining and hasn’t yet invaded the wall of the bladder, the tumors can be removed through a fairly simple procedure. Unfortunately, the tumors may grow back, so regular cystoscopies are required to check your bladder. In some patients, a weekly “cleaning” of the bladder with anticancer drugs may be required. This process, called intravesical chemotherapy, involves placing a drug in the bladder using a catheter.
If the cancer has grown past the lining into the wall of the bladder, it is called invasive. Treatment involves extraction of part or all of the organ. In addition, men may require removal of the prostate, the lower end of the ureters and sometimes the urethra. Women may require removal of the urethra, the lower end of the ureters, the front of the uterus, the fallopian tubes, the ovaries and all or part of the bladder. For both sexes, the absence of these organs may affect sexual desire and performance.
When the bladder is completely removed, a new urine reservoir must be created. Most often, the bowel will be used to create a draining method to an external changeable bag attached to the side of the abdomen.
In severe cases, when the cancer has spread to other organs in the body, chemotherapy and radiation may be required.