Your bladder health is not something you think about until your bladder stops working properly. The bladder is a hollow organ that holds the urine produced by your kidneys. It is also an organ that changes as we age. Bladder problems can include infections, urinary incontinence, and even bladder cancer. In this article, we answer some of the most common questions about bladder health, specifically as they relate to bladder cancer.
1.What is bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer develops when the cells of the bladder lining start to grow out of control. The bladder wall consists of several layers of tissue and most cancers start in the innermost lining. As tumors grow further into the deeper layers of the bladder wall or grow through and beyond the bladder wall, the cancer becomes more advanced and can be more difficult to treat.
Dr. Michael J. Curran, CEO of Greater Boston Urology, says, “Bladder cancer doesn’t receive as much attention as other diseases. Yet, like any disease, early detection is critical to positive outcomes.” Fortunately, 70 to 80% of bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, before they have grown deeply into the bladder wall, and are highly treatable.
2. What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?
The most common and often first symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. You may also notice that you have to urinate more often and that it is painful to urinate, or that you have pain in your back or pelvic region. These symptoms can also be due to conditions that are not related to cancer, so always see your doctor for a thorough physical exam.
3. What are the risk factors for bladder cancer?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bladder cancer occurs in 20 out of every 100,000 Americans. It is more common in older adults; nine out of ten people with this disease are over 55 years old, and the average age at the time of diagnoses is 73. Bladder cancer is more common in men than women, and white Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed as African Americans or Hispanic Americans.
There are two main types of risk factors: risk factors that you cannot change, and those that you can.
Risk factors you cannot change are:
- Race and ethnicity.
- Urinary infections, kidney and bladder stones, and long-term catheter use can irritate the bladder and have been linked to bladder cancer.
- Personal and family history of bladder or urinary tract cancer and genetics.
- Prolonged use of the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide without adequate fluid intake can irritate the bladder and increase the risk. Treatment with radiation therapy to the pelvis also increases the risk.
The good news is there are risk factors that you can change to promote bladder health and reduce your risk of bladder cancer.
4. What can I do to promote bladder health?
Although there is no sure way to prevent bladder cancer for everyone, in general maintaining a healthy weight, keeping physically active throughout life, and eating a healthy diet can help to reduce your risk of developing cancer, as well another health concerns such as heart disease and diabetes. In addition, here are some other bladder cancer prevention tips:
Cigarette smoking is the single largest risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers are at least three times as likely to develop bladder cancer as non-smokers. For tips and help to quit smoking, see the National Cancer Institute website.
Limit workplace exposure to chemicals.
Workers in rubber, leather, and textile industries, as well as painters, machinists, printers, hairdressers (probably because of hair dyes), and truck drivers (probably because of diesel fumes), have higher risks of bladder cancer. Smokers who work with cancer-causing chemicals are especially at risk. Follow good work safety practices and limit other exposure, such as personal use of hair dyes, or exposure to diesel fumes.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Not drinking enough water can cause harmful substances to stick to the walls of your bladder, causing irritation and increasing your risk for bladder cancer. Try to drink a minimum of 64 oz of fluids daily. Water is the best choice. If you are taking certain medications, such as the chemotherapy treatment cyclophosphamide or the diabetic medication pioglitazone, your doctor may recommend you drink more than this.
Get your well-water tested.
There is strong evidence that drinking water containing arsenic increases the risk of bladder cancer. Arsenic may be present in parts of the world where the water supply is not regulated. In the US, public drinking water meets standards for arsenic, so this is not a concern. If you drink well water, however, there may be some concern. According to a study by the US Geological Survey and CDC, over two million people in the US may be drinking well water high in arsenic. If you have concerns about water safety, have your well water tested for arsenic content, and drink bottled water if you are spending time in a developing country.
Eat more vegetables and fruits.
Eating 5-9 servings every day of a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits protects against many cancers, including bladder cancer. Consider adding slice or two of tomatoes to your eggs at breakfast. Top your yogurt or oatmeal with some blueberries. If you’re looking for a snack between meals, have some raw broccoli, carrots, and yellow/red peppers with hummus for a delicious and quick snack!
The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that there is some research to suggest that drinking tea reduces the risk of bladder cancer. Consider adding a cup or two per day to help reduce your risk.
Avoid herbal supplements that may contain aristolochic acid.
This ingredient has been shown to cause kidney failure and cancer of the urinary tract.
5. What can I do if I have been diagnosed with bladder cancer?
If you have bladder cancer, follow the recommendations from your oncology (healthcare) team. In addition, incorporate the diet and lifestyle tips above into your health maintenance plan. If you are a smoker, the most important thing that you can do is stop smoking. General nutrition and lifestyle recommendations include maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and eating a healthy diet with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
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