Bladder Cancer

Over 10,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year; it is the 7th most common cancer in the UK and the 4th most common cancer in men.

It is possible that more men than women get bladder cancer because more men smoked in the past few decades and men are more likely to have been exposed to chemicals at work.

Your ethnic background is also related to your risk. Black or Asian men have around half the risk of bladder cancer as white men. Black or Asian women have around two thirds the risks of white women.

Bladder cancer usually takes a long time to develop and is most common in older people. The majority of people with bladder cancer are over 60 years old.

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Blood in the urine

Blood in the urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. 4 out of 5 people with bladder cancer (80%) have some blood in their urine. You may actually see the blood, it usually looks bright red but it may turn the urine dark brown. Or there may be such small amounts that it cannot be seen. Even if it cannot be seen, a simple urine test will show if blood is present.

The bleeding is not usually painful. But it can be helpful to diagnose you if you can say whether you had any pain when you passed the urine with the blood in it. It can also be helpful for your doctor if you know whether there is blood only when you start to urinate or whether the blood is mixed with all the urine you pass. Having blood in your urine doesn't mean you definitely have bladder cancer. There are other more common causes.

  • Muscle spasms in the bladder
  • A burning pain when passing urine
  • A need to urinate on a more frequent basis
  • Sudden urges to urinate

If bladder cancer reaches an advanced stage and begins to spread, symptoms can include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Bone pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Swelling of the legs

If you ever have any blood in your urine – even if you notice it just once – visit your GP, so that the cause can be investigated. The earlier a cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

Bladder cancer is caused by changes to the cells of the bladder, several factors have been identified that can significantly increase your risk of developing bladder cancer.

Smoking

Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for bladder cancer. People with the highest risk are those who smoke heavily, or who have been smoking for a long time. This is because tobacco contains cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals that pass into your bloodstream and are filtered by the kidneys into your urine.

The bladder is repeatedly exposed to these harmful chemicals, as it acts as a store for urine. This can cause changes to the cells of the bladder lining, which may lead to bladder cancer. Just over a third of all cases of bladder cancer are caused by smoking. People who smoke are up to four times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers.

Exposure to chemicals

Exposure to certain industrial chemicals is the second biggest risk factor. Studies estimate that this may account for around 25% of cases.

Chemicals known to increase the risk of bladder cancer include:

  • aniline dyes
  • 2-Naphthylamine
  • 4-Aminobiphenyl
  • xenylamine
  • benzidine
  • o-toluidine

Occupations linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer are manufacturing jobs involving:

  • dyes
  • textiles
  • rubbers
  • paints
  • plastics
  • leather tanning

Some non-manufacturing jobs have also been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer. These include taxi or bus drivers, as a result of their regular exposure to the chemicals present in diesel fumes. Some of these chemicals have been banned in the UK for many years but are still linked with cases of bladder cancer now as it can take up to 30 years after initial exposure to the chemicals before the condition starts to develop.