1. The purpose of the bladder is to hold urine until it can be removed from the body through the urethra. Bladder cancer affects the walls of the bladder, interfering with normal function. The early signs of bladder cancer are blood in the urine and a change of bladder habits. There are many causes for these two symptoms, many not as severe as cancer. If you have these symptoms, however, it is important that you see your doctor immediately to determine the cause and treat it.
2. It is unclear what causes bladder cancer, but certain risk factors have been identified. Smoking is the greatest factor so far identified, with smokers being three times more likely to have bladder cancer than nonsmokers.
3. Exposure to certain chemicals has also been linked with bladder cancer. Painters, hairdressers, machinists, printers, and truck drivers have all been found to be at higher risk for bladder cancer due to the chemicals they come in contact with at work. People who work in the industries that produce these products are also found to be at high risk.
4. Chronic bladder infections is another risk factor for bladder cancer. Urinary infections, kidney and bladder stones, and blood catheters all increase your risk of getting this disease. It is not currently believed that these factors actually cause bladder cancer, but a truly definitive finding has not yet been reached.
5. Because the exact cause of bladder cancer is not known, there is no known way to prevent it. But there are things that can be done to lower your chances of contracting the disease. Not smoking is the biggest, as is limiting your exposure to chemicals in your workplace. Taking the necessary safety precautions when handling these chemicals is essential. Drinking plenty of fluids (mostly water) and eating lots of fruits and vegetables have also been found by some studies to reduce the chances of bladder cancer, though not all studies back this up.
6. If the risk factors indicate that you are at risk, your doctor may recommend testing. A cystoscopy involves inserting a tiny lens into the urethra to allow your doctor to look at your bladder. If anything looks unusual, some tissue will be removed for closer inspection. This inspection is known as a biopsy and will be able to determine if you have bladder cancer. If you do, your doctor may order some image tests to look at the surrounding organs to determine if the cancer has spread or not.
7. Surgery is the most common treatment for bladder cancer. A fairly simple surgery involves simply removing any tumors on the bladder. The remaining cancer may be treated through chemotherapy or radiation. For more advanced cancers, a cystectomy may be done. A cysectomy removes all or part of the bladder. If only part is removed, a person will usually have to urinate more often, but notice no other major life changes. If the entire bladder is removed, the ureters needs to be rerouted to some sort of bag or sack that will need to be emptied regularly.
8. Despite the difficulties of adjusting to life without a bladder, many survivors of bladder cancer have adapted and are currently living full, healthy lives.