Welcome to Week 3 of Bladder Health Month! What’s up for this week? Bladder cancer. Cancer always feels scary, but read on to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to help stay in control.
What is Bladder Cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the bladder, it is called bladder cancer.
To lower your risk of bladder cancer, don’t smoke and be especially careful around certain kinds of chemicals.
How Common is Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the United States
Each year, an estimated 83,000 men and women get diagnosed with bladder cancer in the United States
Smokers are 3x as likely to get bladder cancer than nonsmokers
Three times more men than women tend to get bladder cancer, and it is the third most common cancer in men
1-in-4 people who are diagnosed with bladder cancer in the United States have the muscle-invasive kind
Bladder cancer is more common in older adults.
Source: The Urology Care Foundation
What are Common Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?
Blood in the urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer, and is generally painless. Approximately 80-90% of patients with bladder cancer present with this symptom.
Remember, blood in your urine does NOT always mean you have bladder cancer; it does however warrant a trip to your doctor. There are a number of other reasons why you may have blood in your urine, such as an infection or kidney stones. And a very small amount of blood might be normal in some people.
Frequent urination, urgency and pain when you pass urine are less common symptoms, occurring in about 20-30% of people with bladder cancer. Other things can cause these symptoms as well, so if you have a new onset of these urinary symptoms, it's important to see your healthcare practitioner to help you get to the root of the cause.
What are Some Common Risk Factors for Bladder Cancer?
Smoking is the most important risk factor for bladder cancer.
People who smoke are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as people who don't. Second hand smoke can also increase the risk of developing bladder cancer. Smoking causes about 50% of all bladder cancers. (This includes any type of smoking—cigarettes, cigars, pipes, vaping, etc).
If you or someone you know smokes and would like help quitting, see the American Cancer Society's Guide to Quitting Smoking, or call them at 1-800-227-2345 for more information.
Workplace exposures to carcinogens is the second most important risk factor for bladder cancer.
According to Cancer.org, workers in industries that use certain chemicals have a higher risk of bladder cancer. Workers such as painters, machinists, printers, and truck drivers (likely because of exposure to diesel fumes) may be at increased risk.
Cancer.org goes on to say that some chemicals found in certain hair dyes might also increase risk, so it’s important for hairdressers, stylists and barbers who are exposed to these products regularly to use them safely. (Most studies have not found that personal use of hair dyes increases bladder cancer risk.)
Certain medicines or herbal supplements
The diabetes medicine Actos, and dietary supplements containing aristolochic acid have been linked with an increased link of bladder cancer.
Race and Ethnicity
Whites are about twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as African Americans and Hispanics. Asian Americans and American Indians have slightly lower rates of bladder cancer.
The risk of bladder cancer increases with age. About 9 out of 10 people with bladder cancer are older than 55.
Bladder cancer is much more common in men than in women.
(Source: American Cancer Society)
How to Help Lower Your Risk of Bladder Cancer:
Don't smoke; if you currently do smoke, quitting now can help: The European Association of Urology (EAU) guidelines estimate a 40% reduction in the risk of developing bladder cancer within 1-4 years of quitting smoking, increasing to a 60% reduction after 25 years of smoking cessation.
Limit exposure to certain chemicals at work: In addition to smoking cessation, the EAU guidelines address occupational exposure to carcinogens, with a recommendation that workers be informed of the risk and protective measures taken. Occupational exposures include the following:
Aromatic hydrocarbons - common in metal processing
Aromatic amines - used in dyes
N-nitrosamines - found in rubber and tobacco
Drink plenty of fluids. Increased water intake has been advocated because it may help to dilute any carcinogens your bladder is exposed to, though conclusive evidence has not yet been shown.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Some studies have suggested that a diet high in fruits and vegetables might help protect against bladder cancer, but other studies have not found this. Still, eating a healthy diet has been shown to have many benefits, including lowering the risk of some other types of cancer.
What to do if you're experiencing worrisome bladder symptoms
Your first step if you are experiencing symptoms such as blood in your urine or frequent urination, urgency and pain when you pass urine is to contact your primary care physician or other healthcare provider. They will help you determine the cause of these symptoms and come up with a plan of action. Keep in mind that there are many common and benign causes of these symptoms, so don't delay seeing your doctor because of fear; the sooner you go in, the sooner you can set your mind at ease and have your plan of action in place to take care of these symptoms, no matter what the cause.
Physical Therapy and Bladder Cancer
Rehabilitation after cancer treatment can sometimes be an afterthought. After all, initially the focus needs to be on treating the cancer. But sometimes after completing treatment, you can be left with side effects which may significantly impact your quality of life and self-image.
If you have been treated for bladder or any other type of cancer and find that you are left with symptoms such as bladder, bowel or sexual functioning difficulties, be sure to advocate for yourself or loved one and contact a pelvic health physical therapist. Physical therapy can often help with symptoms such as urgency, frequency, leakage, pain with intercourse and other sexual dysfunctions.
Also, the benefits of physical therapy are not limited to pelvic health; PT can also help you manage many other side effects common with cancer treatment, such as fatigue, weakness and pain. These are all problems which physical therapists are specially trained to help you with, making PT's a crucial part of your cancer care team. After all, your goal is not only to survive, but to thrive!
If you have been treated for bladder cancer and are having any of the above challenges, but aren't sure if physical therapy can help, schedule a free virtual consultation with me and let's get you started on a personalized plan to help you return to feeling great.
Take action today to tackle any bladder problems or concerns
Happy Bladder Health Month, Week 3!
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About the Author:
Angela is the owner of My Pelvic Therapy, PLLC and a licensed physical therapist. Prior to starting her telehealth private practice, she worked as a senior physical therapist for 17 years at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, specializing in helping both women and men overcome their pelvic floor challenges. She received her physical therapy degree from Duke University, biology degree from University of Illinois, and is a lifelong learner of all things PT.