Bladder cancer is a disease that affects the bladder, the organ that stores urine. The most common type of cancer develops in the cells on the inner lining of the bladder wall. If the cancer spreads through the lining, it is considered an invasive cancer. The majority of cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed at an early stage when they are highly treatable.
Types of Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancers, which are named for the kinds of cells that the tumors grow in, mainly fall into one of the following three categories.
Transitional-cell carcinoma begins in cells that make up the inner lining of the bladder. It is the most common type of bladder cancer.
Squamous-cell carcinoma is a rare form of bladder cancer that stems from rigid squamous cells, which resemble skin cells in shape and size.
Adenocarcinoma, the rarest form of bladder cancer, begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids. Adenocarcinomas originate from cells that have gland-like or secretory properties.
Risks Factors for Bladder Cancer
The exact cause of bladder cancer is unknown, but there are risk factors associated with its onset. They include the following:
- Increase in age
- Being male
- Being Caucasian
- Family history of cancer
- Exposure to carcinogens or cancer-causing substances
- Previous cancer treatments with cyclophosphamide
- Previous radiation treatments in the pelvic area
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
Symptoms of bladder cancer are similar to those of most urological conditions, and include frequent and/or painful urination; blood in the urine; and pain in the back and/or pelvis.
Diagnosis of Bladder Cancer
To diagnose bladder cancer, a physician performs a physical examination, which includes checking the abdomen and pelvic areas for any abnormalities. It may also include a vaginal or rectal exam. After the physical exam, one or more of the following tests may be ordered:
- Urine test
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
- PET scan
Stages of Bladder Cancer
Once bladder cancer is diagnosed, a determination of its stage will be made. There are four stages: Stage I, in which cancer has invaded the bladder's inner lining but not the muscle lining; Stage II, in which cancer has invaded the muscle layer but is still confined to the bladder; Stage III, in which cancer cells have spread through the bladder wall to surrounding tissue; and Stage IV, in which cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, and, possibly, other organs.
Treatment of Bladder Cancer
Treatment options for bladder cancer vary based on the stage of the cancer, the patient's overall health and, in some cases, the patient's preference. Options include the following:
Bladder cancer surgery involves the removal of the cancerous tissue. Tumors may be surgically removed from the bladder in early-stage bladder cancer. If the cancer is far advanced, some or all of the bladder may be removed.
With chemotherapy, powerful medications are administered to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapeutic medicine may be administered in a variety of forms, including injections, pills and catheters. For patients with bladder cancer, the drugs are usually administered directly into the bladder in a procedure called intravesical chemotherapy.
High-energy X-rays or a similar type of radiation may be administered externally, internally, or both. External radiation therapy directs concentrated radiation at a tumor from outside the body. Internal radiation therapy implants radioactive material through the urethra, or through a small incision in the bladder near the cancerous tumor.
Immunotherapy is the stimulation and use of the body's own defenses to fight off cancer. It involves boosting the bladder's defensive abilities by injecting it with disease-fighting substances naturally produced by the body. Immunotherapy is only recommended when cancer is in its earlier stages.
Prevention of Bladder Cancer
Although there is no way to prevent it, the risk of getting bladder cancer may be reduced by quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, minimizing exposure to certain chemicals, and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and flush the bladder throughout the day.