Understanding Bladder Cancer

It's the 9th leading cause of cancer overall, but number 4 among men. Although bladder cancer is often regarded as an old man's disease, itcan hit at any age.

For many men, the first symptom of bladder cancer will be blood in their urine. This may be apparent, as a bright red or cola coloring, or microscopic and discovered in a urine analysis. Frequent and painful urination, as well as back and pelvic pain are other signs of the disease.

Happily, bladder cancer usually doesn't sneak up on you; it is frequently diagnosed at an early stage. There are, however, certain risk factors to be aware of – not that you can do anything about most of them.

For instance, men are more likely to contract it, and white men are at a higher risk than any other race. If you were previously treated with the anti-cancer drug cyclophosphamide or the diabetes medication pioglitazone, you are at a higher risk for bladder cancer. If you have suffered from repeated urinary infections or inflammations as might result from prolonged use of a catheter, you are also at a higher risk. So, too, are men with a family or personal history of cancer.

About the only thing you can control that can lower your risk for bladder cancer is smoking. Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes canincrease your risk by generating harmful chemicals which accumulate in your urine. These chemicals can damage the lining of your bladder, which in turn raises your risk of cancer there.

There are a few tools at your doctor's disposal to determine if you are suffering from bladder cancer. These include:

  • A cytoscopy, in which a tube is inserted through your urethra through which your doctor can take a look around the inside of your urethra and bladder;
  • A biopsy, in which a cell sample is extracted via the same kind of tube used during a cytoscopy and analyzed;
  • Standard imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a computerized tomography (CT) scan, or a pyelogram, which uses an injected dye to highlight your kidneys, ureters and bladder;
  • Or a simple urine sample

Following confirmation of bladder cancer from any of these initial tests, your doctor will schedule treatment determined by the stage of the cancer. Non-surgical options for early-stage bladder cancer include the biological therapy drugs bacille Calmette-Guerin and a synthetic version of interferon. The first is also used in tuberculosis vaccines and the latter is a protein your immune system makes to help fight infections.