Bladder Cancer

According to a recent study conducted by The American Cancer Society, over 70,000 new cases of bladder cancer have been cropping up across the nation. It is the fifth most common type of cancer in the United States. In fact, in 2012 alone, 14,880 people have lost their lives to the disease.

If you or someone you love is battling bladder cancer, the journey may seem daunting. Take time now to educate yourself about the illness, acquaint yourself with the symptoms, discover the latest treatment options and find the support you need.

The Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

The symptoms of bladder cancer are dynamic, in that they may not all present at the same time, and can often be mistaken for another condition, like a urinary tract infection. If you or someone you love is experiencing some of the below symptoms, it is best to contact a physician as soon as possible.

The following list contains the most common symptoms of bladder cancer:

  • Blood - The presence of blood in the urine can vary greatly from person to person. For some, the sighting is so great that the urine changes to a rust or red-like color. For others, the blood is impossible to detect without giving a urine sample. That is why having a urine test is so important, because even trace amounts of blood can signal bladder cancer.
  • Bladder Habit Changes - More frequent trips to the bathroom, or the intense urgency to do so, can often send a red flag for bladder cancer. Though this symptom can be subtle or thought to be a symptom for a urinary tract infection, it is also a common indicator of bladder cancer.
  • Pain - Some people who are suffering from bladder cancer experience a great deal of pain in the lower back and pelvic area, as well as pain during urination.

If you suspect that someone you love is showing signs or symptoms of bladder cancer, it is best to encourage them to see a doctor right away. Rather than worry about all the possibilities, embolden your friend or family member to discover the source of their discomfort.

Detecting Bladder Cancer

The following list from the Mayo Clinic contains common ways to detect bladder cancer:

  • Cystoscopy - This test involves a physician inserting a thin, tube-like camera into the urethra. This special camera has a light attached, allowing doctors to see any signs of cancer inside the body.
  • Biopsy - During the cystoscopy your doctor might recommend that a small sample of tissue or cells be taken so that further tests can be run.
  • Urine Cytology - This test involves searching microscopically for cancer cells within the urine.
  • Image Testing - Some physicians require their patients to undergo an X-ray test or CT scan in order to better examine the urinary tract.

Causes of Bladder Cancer

Despite the fact that no direct cause for bladder cancer has been determined, there are several things that place someone at a much higher risk for acquiring the disease. Some of these warning signs provide an opportunity for change, via a lifestyle modification, while other factors are simply unchangeable, such as age or family history. Learning the causes of bladder cancer will help you or someone you love to prepare for the steps ahead.

The following list includes several causes of bladder cancer:

  • Age - Almost 90% of all bladder cancer patients are over the age of 55.
  • Race - Caucasians are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer than African Americans, Hispanics or Asians.
  • Gender - Men are placed at the highest risk for being diagnosed with bladder cancer over women. In the U.S., bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and ninth most common in women.
  • Smoking - Smoking pipes or cigarettes allows dangerous chemicals to be absorbed by the lungs, transferred to the blood, processed by the kidneys and eventually collected in the urine. These harmful chemicals then rest in the urine causing damage to the inner cell-lining of the bladder. Smokers are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer than those who abstain.
  • Chemical Exposure - Those who have daily exposure to a vast amount of chemicals are placed at a much greater risk for contracting cancer.
  • Birth Defects - Although it is rare, some people are born with birth defects of the bladder that can eventually lead to bladder cancer.
  • Poor Hydration - Drinking enough water will lower your chances of getting bladder cancer.
  • Family History - Those with a family history of bladder cancer are at a greater risk of developing the disease later in life.

Treatments for Bladder Cancer

There are many factors that must be considered when treating bladder cancer. But with an excellent physician and the right plan, the outlook can be quite hopeful. Bladder cancer is treated specifically depending on what stage the cancer is in (Is it superficial and limited to the innermost linings of the bladder? Or has it penetrated the muscles of the bladder wall and now considered invasive?) and at what grade the tumor is (how abnormal are the cells?).

Possible treatment options:

  • Surgical Intervention- Surgery is an option available to most people diagnosed with bladder cancer. There are two main types of surgery used to treat bladder cancer:
    • Transurethral Resection (TUR) – used to treat early stages of bladder cancer (stage 0 or 1), a doctor will insert a cystoscope through the urethra and use a small wire loop to remove cancer cells. There is no incision required for this treatment.
    • Open Surgery – this treatment requires a surgeon to cut into the body and remove either part (partial cystectomy) or all (radical cystectomy) of the bladder.
  • Biological Therapy - used to treat early-stage bladder cancer, patients are injected with a liquid containing weakened bacteria directly into the bladder. The bacteria help boost the body’s immune system to help kill offer cancerous cells.
  • Chemotherapy – this treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells and may be used in combination with other therapies. Chemotherapy can be administered orally with medication, directly into the bladder or intravenously through the blood.
  • Radiation Therapy – this type of therapy uses high-energy rays from a large machine to kill cancerous cells. Radiation therapy can be used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy or in place of either.
  • Clinical Trials – Medical researchers are discovering or perfecting new treatments all the time. Clinical trials allow patients to test out new treatment methods that are still in the research phase.

Ways to Prevent Bladder Cancer

Though some of the causes of bladder cancer are impossible to avoid, there are things that you can do on a daily basis to improve your chances of suffering from the disease.

Here are a few ways that you can prevent bladder cancer:

  • Stay Hydrated - Drinking an adequate amount of water every day is just one small way you can help ward off bladder cancer.
  • Avoid Smoking - According to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, smoking is one of the highest risk factors when it comes to developing bladder cancer. Those who smoke are two to four times more likely to develop cancer than those who avoid smoking.
  • Use Caution with Chemicals - If your career makes it impossible for you to avoid chemicals in the workplace, than exercise extreme caution.
  • Eat Healthy Meals - Maintaining proper nutrition is just one easy way that you can give your body the best chance at fighting off cancer.

Coping with Bladder Cancer

Watching anyone that you love go through something painful is draining and emotional. Bladder cancer, like many other forms of illness, can affect the whole person. Disease hurts physically, emotionally and mentally. Here are some ways you can support someone who is fighting against bladder cancer:

Mental Support

A person diagnosed with cancer may be feeling an array of different emotions, such as:

  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Exhaustion

By encouraging your friend or family member to seek counsel or attend a support group, you are showing that you care for their entire well-being. One great way to inspire your hope is to read or hear the stories of other cancer survivors. The American Cancer Society has local chapters that can connect you with people in your area who have walked the same road. There are so many ways to support someone emotionally, but the most important thing is that your loved one never feels as though they are on this difficult journey alone.

Medical Support

Make sure that the person you are caring for is getting the best care possible. This might include re-evaluating:

  • Their current physician
  • Symptom management
  • Nutritional habits
  • Personal lifestyle

If your friend or loved one is finished with their treatments, you can always encourage them to make follow-up appointments and continue seeking top-notch medical care. Having on-going medical care is important even for those in remission, because detecting re-occurrences of cancer early on can be vital.

Everyday Support

Sometimes your support might manifest in a more practical way, such as:

  • Giving your loved one a ride to the doctor
  • Cooking them a fresh meal
  • Walking their dog

Being available to your friend or family member in the day-to-day activities of life, may be just the thing that makes their journey all the easier. Going through cancer, your loved one may feel as though their energy has been depleted. This type of extreme exhaustion makes everyday tasks that were once easy, seem really daunting. Look for ways to help out around the house and do anything you can to make life a little easier.

Bladder Cancer Resources

Whether you are caring for someone with bladder cancer or would simply like to stay well informed, there are great resources available. The following list offers helpful information and support regarding bladder cancer:

  • The Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN)
    4915 St. Elmo Avenue, Suite 202
    Bethesda, MD 20814
    (301) 215-9099
    www.bcan.org
  • American Cancer Society
    PO Box 22718
    Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718
    1-800-227-2345
    www.cancer.org
  • American Bladder Cancer Society
    399 Main Street Suite 2B
    Dalton, MA 01226-1612
    (413) 684-2344
    www.bladdercancersupport.org
  • American Urological Association Foundation
    1000 Corporate Boulevard
    Linthicum, MD 21090
    (410) 689-3700
    www.urologyhealth.org
  • Bladder Cancer Canada
    21 Jason Cres.
    Georgetown, ON L7G 4Z3
    1-866-674-8889

Written by senior housing writer Asha Grinnell.