According to the American Cancer Society, 73,510 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in the US alone. 14,480 of these cases are going to result in death. Around 275,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year worldwide. Around 108,000 people die of this disease every year worldwide.
These statistics leave no doubt in our minds that bladder cancer is a deadly disease. What makes it even more deadly is that the early symptoms of this disease are often confused with common urinary problems and many times ignored completely. Very often there are no symptoms till the disease has progressed to the advanced stage and at this stage there is nothing much the doctors can do. It is important for everyone to learn about this disease, because this improves the chances of early detection of this disease and thereby improves the overall diagnosis.
Bladder Cancer Defined
Bladder cancer refers to cancer that originates in the bladder. In other words, lung cancer or any other cancer that has spread to the bladder will not be called a bladder cancer. In vast majority of the cases, bladder cancers originate from the transitional cells, which are the cells that make up the inner lining of your bladder.
Bladder cancer can spread to other body parts after breaking away from the tumor in the bladder. These detached cancerous cells then travel through lymph nodes, lymph vessels, and/or blood vessels and attach themselves to tissues in the liver, lungs, kidneys, and bones. Here they grow and develop into new tumors.
Bladder is a hollow organ in which urine is stored. There are three tissue layers that make up the bladder wall. The inner layer consists of transitional cells. These are specialized cells whose job is to prevent the urine from seeping deeper into the tissues. These cells stretch when your bladder gets filled up with urine. The middle layer consists of a network of nerves and blood vessels. The outer layer is the thickest layer and is covered with fat.
Types of Bladder Cancer
There are three main types of bladder cancers. The categorization of bladder cancer is done on the basis of where the cancer originated and which cells are involved.
Urothelial carcinoma, commonly referred to as transitional cell carcinoma, makes up 90-95% of the bladder cancer cases. Transitional cell carcinoma is further categorized into superficial bladder cancer, invasive bladder cancer, and metastatic bladder cancer. This sub-categorization is done on the basis of where exactly the cancer is growing and how far it has spread.
Superficial Bladder Cancers
Superficial bladder cancers are referred to as early stage bladder cancers. These cancers are found in the transitional cells and have not yet spread to the other layers of the bladder. Papillary bladder cancer and carcinoma in situ are two main types of superficial bladder cancers.
Papillary bladder cancer is characterized by small mushroom shaped cancerous growth in the inner bladder lining, which is made up of transitional cells. This type of cancer has a very low recurrence rate and is easily treatable. Carcinoma in situ, on the other hand, has a high recurrence rate. In carcinoma in situ, the cancerous growth is flat shaped and is not growing on the bladder lining. These cancerous cells are very abnormal looking and are classified as high grade.
Invasive and Metastatic Bladder Cancer
A superficial bladder cancer that has invaded deeper layers of the bladder and spread to the connective tissue is classified as invasive bladder cancer. When superficial bladder cancer spreads to adjacent organs, like vagina, uterus, and prostate gland, it is classified as metastatic bladder cancer. This type of cancer has the ability to spread to lungs, liver, and bones via the blood vessels and lymph nodes.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
In the US, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most prevalent type of bladder cancer. Worldwide, this is the most common type of bladder cancer. In the US, it makes up around 5% of all bladder cancer cases. On the other hand, in the developing countries, SCC makes up 75% of all the bladder cancer cases.
SCC often develops due to chronic inflammation and/ or infection in the bladder. If bladder stones are left untreated for long time, they can cause irritation in the bladder. This type of chronic irritation can also lead to SCC. SCC is more prevalent in some African and Middle Eastern countries, due to the widespread presence of schistosomiasis, a worm that causes bladder infection.
Though adenocarcinoma is a very rare type of bladder cancer, it is highly dangerous and invasive type of cancer. Only around 1 or 2 percent of the bladder cancer cases are related to adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma originates from the bladder lining’s cells that are responsible for producing mucus.
Bladder Cancer Symptoms
Many of the bladder cancer symptoms are quite similar to common urinary tract diseases. For example, one of the most common symptoms of bladder cancers is the presence of blood in the urine. If you ever notice rusty colored urine, make sure that you see a doctor right away.
One of the first symptoms that bladder cancer patients notice is the need to go to the bathroom more frequently. Some patients also notice that they get the urge to urinate, but without any results. Both these symptoms are often ignored by people; however, these are symptoms that are associated with bladder cancer and should not be ignored.
If you experience pain while urinating or if you find yourself straining while urinating, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. These symptoms could indicate the presence of bladder cancer. Abdominal pain, constantly feeling tired, and unexplained weight loss are some of the other symptoms associated with bladder cancer and need immediate medical attention.
Bladder Cancer Risk Factors
Though the exact causes of bladder cancer are unknown, there are several risk factors that are associated with this disease. It has been noticed that smoking is one of the main risk factors associated with bladder cancer. More than half the cases of bladder cancer are linked to smoking. People with a longer history of smoking are at greater risk than people with shorter history of smoking. If you quit smoking now, you will gradually decrease the risk of developing bladder cancer.
Age, sex, and family history are also considered risk factors for bladder cancer. Older people are at higher risk of developing bladder cancer than younger people. Men are at higher risk than women when it comes to bladder cancer. Furthermore, if there is a family history of bladder cancer, it puts you at higher risk.
People who are exposed to carcinogens, which are chemicals that cause cancer, at work are at high risk of developing bladder cancer. Truck drivers, leather workers, dye workers, hairdressers, aluminum workers, painters, printers, rubber workers, and pesticide applicators are some of the workers who are at risk for bladder cancer.
People who are exposed to some of the cancer treatments are also at high risk for bladder cancer. For example, patients who had radiation therapy to the pelvic area or abdomen are at high risk of developing bladder cancer. Some cancer drugs, like cyclophosphamide, also increase the risk of bladder cancer.
Taking Care of Yourself
Understanding the basic facts about bladder cancer, its symptoms, and its risk factors helps us understand what our body is telling us. Remember that it is important to never ignore any symptom. Moreover, when you go for a checkup, make sure that you discuss all your symptoms in detail. This will ensure proper diagnosis.
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