Bladder cancer is one of the common urological cancers. Like other types of cancers, it’s caused by the abnormal growth of cells. Let’s analyze the various causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options for bladder cancer in detail.
What is a bladder?
The bladder is a hollow flexible pouch in the pelvis. Its function is to store urine which the kidneys produce and expel it out of the body from time to time.
What causes bladder cancer?
The following reasons are thought to be the main causes of bladder cancer:
Smoking: Research suggests that the most common cause of bladder cancers is smoking. Each time an individual puffs at a cigarette she/he is inhaling a wide range of harmful chemicals which are known carcinogens.
Chronic exposure to chemicals: Those who are exposed to harmful chemicals for long periods of time as demanded by their profession have a higher risk of getting bladder cancer. These include painters, printers, hairstylists, truck drivers, and more.
Other reasons include genetic make-up, certain medicines, chronic bladder infections, etc.
What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?
The following are identified as symptoms of bladder cancer, although they could well be present in other conditions as well.
- Blood in the urine is the commonest and most important symptom which should not be ignored
- Burning sensation and difficulty while urinating
- Urge to urinate even when the bladder is not full
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme fatigue
Diagnosis of bladder cancer:
Like in all cases of cancer, it’s important to detect and diagnose bladder cancer early. Diagnosis includes a slew of measures.
When bladder cancer is suspected, the Urologist will want you to have some blood, urine tests, and a telescopic examination (Flexible Cystoscopy) of the bladder, these days, this is carried out in the out-patient under local anaesthesia and is a quick procedure lasting less than a few minutes. This helps with early detection of the disease without the need for admission into hospital or general anaesthesia.
How does bladder cancer get treated?
Once, it has been established that there is a growth inside the bladder. Your urologist will arrange to carry out an endoscopic procedure called the Transurethral Resection of Bladder Tumor (TURBT). This will require a day or two’s admission in the hospital and is carried out under anaesthesia. The urological surgeon will remove the growth and take some biopsies from the deeper layers of your bladder and send it to the Uro-pathologist for a histopathological examination. This is a rather important step in establishing an accurate diagnosis as further treatment planning is entirely dependant on this initial but important procedure.
For cancers that invade the bladder muscle wall, removal of the urinary bladder may be recommended to you in order to remove cancer completely. These days in well-established cancer centres this is carried out with keyhole surgery with the assistance of the robot, this allows for early recovery with lesser complications as compared to open surgery
If there is no invasion of the bladder muscle wall, your urologist may recommend to you to undergo intravesical immunotherapy with BCG. This entails instilling the drug into the urinary bladder on an out-patient basis.
For less aggressive tumors, you may be advised to have a drug called Mitomycin C instilled into the bladder.
Apart from the above-mentioned treatments, it may be appropriate to consider radiation therapy to treat cancer, this is usually reserved for people found to be unfit for surgery or when the bladder tumor is limited to a small portion of the bladder.
Its role lies in treating patients prior to surgery or radiotherapy, it has not shown many benefits as a single form of treatment in advanced bladder cancer.
Follow-up of bladder cancer:
Following the initial treatment, you will have to undertake a strict regime of follow-up lasting 5 to 10 years depending on the type of disease. This entails regular checks of the bladder (once in 3 to 12 months), this in good cancer units is carried out under local anaesthesia on an out-patient basis with a Flexible Cystoscopy. It has been shown, time and again that urine cytology and ultrasound scans alone are not adequate methods for bladder cancer follow-up.
Prevention of bladder cancer:
Since, smoking is identified as a major risk factor, quitting smoking is the best way to prevent bladder cancer. Protecting oneself adequately while handling harmful chemicals is also of help in preventing bladder cancer.
Remember, effectively treating cancer is all about how fast the diagnosis is done. If you’ve any symptoms of bladder cancer, please consult your doctor and get yourself checked.