I saw a 66 year old new patient last week who had noticed blood in his urine intermittently for the past 3 months. He was first treated for a possible urinary tract infection with antibiotics. However, the bleeding got worse despite antibiotics, and he was referred to a Urologist who then diagnosed him with bladder cancer.
Each year approximately 75,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed in the US. It occurs more commonly in men than in women. It is the fourth most common cancer in men after prostate, lung and colon cancer. It is more frequent over age 55, in Caucasians and in smokers. Smokers have three times higher risk of developing bladder cancer than non smokers. Other risk factors include workplace chemical exposure to dyes, and chronic exposure to the drug cyclophosphamide.
Cancer of the bladder begins in the inside lining of the bladder and grows into the wall of the bladder. It can spread outside the bladder and can also spread to other organs such as the lungs and bones.
The good news is that people seek medical care quickly because the tumors bleed and they see blood in the urine. If it gets bigger it can cause lower abdominal or back pain. It can be diagnosed by inserting a scope into the bladder called cystoscope and confirmed by taking biopsies of the growth noted in the bladder. Sometimes, cancer cells can also be detected in the urine. The doctor may also do a CT scan to see if it has spread to other organs.
Since the cancer starts from the inner lining of the bladder, it is easy to cure if detected early by simply scraping it off the bladder wall. This is often followed by putting a drug inside the bladder so that the drug can treat just the bladder lining and has minimal side effects. More advanced cases of bladder cancer require treatment with combinations of chemotherapy, surgery and sometimes radiation treatments.
July is National Bladder Cancer Awareness Month. Don’t ignore blood in the urine. While this can occur in urinary tract infections, if persistent, one needs to be evaluated for other causes such as cancers of the bladder or kidney. If you smoke, please make an effort to quit soon since smoking can cause many cancers including cancers of the mouth, throat, lungs, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, and bladder. Remember, If caught early, bladder cancer is curable.