Cancer of the bladder may not get as much attention as other cancers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. About 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year—nearly four percent of men, and more than one percent of women, will get bladder cancer in their lives, most likely after age 55. There are about 15,000 deaths from bladder cancer each year in the United States.
Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest single risk factor for bladder cancer is smoking. The connection may not seem clear, but the toxins in cigarette smoke are filtered out of the bloodstream by the kidneys and go into urine, where they affect the tissue in the bladder. Quitting smoking will lower your risk of bladder cancer; smokers are three times as likely to develop bladder cancer than the general population.
Dehydration due to not drinking enough fluids during the day is also associated with bladder cancer. Other risk factors are not really things a person can control. Chronic bladder irritation can lead to cancer developing. Chemical exposure, such as in the workplace, can also be a contributing factor in the same way as smoking. Certain birth defects involving the bladder also raise cancer risk.
In addition, as with many forms of cancer, there is a genetic predisposition to develop the disease, meaning that people with a family history of cancer should be particularly vigilant. In fact, more than seven in 10 people with bladder cancer have a mutation in the same gene, one that is associated with aging. This gives doctors trying to predict who is at risk—and should therefore take extra precautions—something to look for.
In the early stages, bladder cancer can usually be addressed surgically, removing the tumor with lasers or a wire loop. In severe cases, the entire bladder may need to be removed. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also used when surgery may not be practical. A recent study found that syrup of ipecac, used in the now-obsolete practice of inducing vomiting in people who had been poisoned, can help inhibit the growth of bladder cancer cells when combined with chemotherapy.