May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month. As the weather starts to warm up as we approach summer, it's a time to raise extra awareness and promote facts about this disease. Education and raising the public's awareness about bladder cancer is an important part of moving closer to a cure.
Who is at Risk for Bladder Cancer?
Anybody can get bladder cancer, but it is most common in older adults (over 60-65 years old). Some risk factors for getting bladder cancer include:
- Radiation therapy in the pelvic area.
- Arsenic in drinking water.
- Chemicals in the workplace.
- Hairdressers, painters, printers and dry-cleaners are also at risk for bladder cancer due to the long-term exposure of harmful chemicals.
How Can I Reduce my Bladder Cancer Risk?
If you're a smoker, make sure to quit. Smoking increases bladder cancer risk by at least 2-3 times that of non-smokers. When you quit smoking, your risk goes down (although it may never go back to zero).
There has also been new studies presented in recent weeks that suggest e-cigarettes or "vaping" can raise your risk for bladder cancer.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?
The most common symptom of bladder cancer is painless blood in the urine. Although blood may be visible, in most cases it is unseen except under a microscope. In these cases, blood is found when your urine is tested by your health care provider.
Blood alone does not mean that you have bladder cancer. There could be many reasons for blood in the urine, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. Microscopic amounts of blood might even be normal in some people.
Frequent or painful urination is less common. If you have these symptoms, and do not have a urinary tract infection, you should talk to your health care provider to find out if bladder cancer is the cause.
How is Bladder Cancer Found?
If your urine has any blood at all, even one time, you should be tested for bladder cancer. Many patients will have blood in the urine, but then it goes away. Just because the blood goes away, does not mean you are fine. Your urologist will find bladder cancer with two tests:
- Imaging test (usually a computerized tomography (CT) scan). Imaging looks at your kidneys which can be a source of blood in the urine.
- Cystoscopy (a small camera attached to a long, thin tube is put into the opening of your urethra and into the bladder). Cystoscopy looks at your bladder lining to detect tumors that can be another source of blood.
Can you Screen for Bladder Cancer?
According to Dr. Angela B. Smith of the Department of Urology at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine, "Screening for bladder cancer is not recommended because tests are not accurate enough to diagnose the disease.
"However, for some patients who are very high risk, your doctor may want to perform a urine test (urinalysis) to screen for blood in the urine."