Early signs of bladder cancer and how to minimise its risk
Every year, more than 11 lakh new cancer cases are reported in India. Of these, bladder cancer is one form of cancer which is seen predominantly in men. In this article, we will explore bladder cancer in further detail including types of bladder cancer, early warning signs of bladder cancer, lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer and what to do after getting diagnosed with bladder cancer.
What is bladder cancer?
The bladder is a small muscular sac which is a part of our urinary system. It is responsible for storing urine in the body before eventually passing it out. The bladder is lined by a layer of urothelial cells. These cells are also found inside the kidneys and ureters (tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder). Bladder cancer occurs if the urothelial cells change or start multiplying rapidly causing a mass to grow (called a tumour). If left unchecked, these cells can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
What are the types of bladder cancer?
Depending on which type of bladder cell is determined as the starting point of the cancer (which type of bladder cell starts multiplying uncontrollably), bladder cancer is classified into the following types:
1. Urothelial carcinoma
Urothelial carcinoma is the most common form of bladder cancer, accounting for almost 90% of all reported bladder cancers. It is also sometimes referred to as “transitional cell carcinoma” (TCC). Urothelial carcinoma can be traced back to the urothelial cells which form the lining of the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract including the kidneys, ureters and the urethra. While TCC can occur in these parts of the urinary system as well, it is most common in the bladder.
2. Squamous cell carcinoma
This type of bladder cancer is linked to chronic irritation of the bladder. This can occur due to any underlying infection or from long term use of a urinary catheter. It is a relatively rare form of bladder cancer.
Adenocarcinoma is an extremely rare form of bladder cancer. It originates in cells that form the mucus-secreting glands in the bladder.
4. Small cell carcinoma
This form of bladder cancer stems from the neuroendocrine cells. Small cell carcinoma grows rapidly and often requires chemotherapy similar to the one used for small cell carcinoma of the lung.
Sarcomas originate in the muscle cells of the bladder. It is an extremely rare form of bladder cancer and is treated similarly to TCC (transitional cell carcinoma).
Based on how far the bladder cancer has spread into the wall of the bladder, it is also classified into the following two categories:
- Non-invasive cancers: Bladder cancer which is limited to the inner layer of the urothelial cells. Cancer has not yet spread into the deeper layers.
- Invasive cancers: Bladder cancer which has grown into the deeper layers of the bladder wall.
Bladder cancer is also classified as papillary carcinomas (grows in slender finger-like projections from the inner surface of the bladder toward the hollow centre) and flat carcinomas (does not grow towards the hollow part of the bladder). This type of classification is done based on how the cancer spreads/grows in the body.
What are the early symptoms of bladder cancer?
For almost all types of cancer, early detection and timely treatment offer the best chances of complete recovery. For bladder cancer as well, knowing the early symptoms is important especially for individuals who are at a greater risk of developing bladder cancer.
Blood in urine
This symptom is also called haematuria. It is one of the most common symptoms of bladder cancer. It can be detected by:
- Pinkish, orange or dark red urine
- Traces of blood in a urine test or urinalysis
- Occasional blood in the urine
In the early stages of bladder cancer, bleeding can occur with little or no pain. Blood in the urine can also be caused due to benign conditions. To rule out bladder cancer, get yourself screened if you notice any change in the colour, frequency or consistency of your urine.
Discomfort during urination
Bladder cancer can also cause discomfort during urination. It can manifest as:
- Burning sensation or painful urination
- Feeling full even after urination
- Increase in frequency of urination
- Being able to pass only small amounts of urine
If the bladder cancer has penetrated through the bladder lining and has spread into the surrounding layers of tissue and muscle or other parts of the body, it is considered to be in an advanced stage. The symptoms of advanced bladder cancer are:
- Difficulties in urinating
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- Feeling weak or fatigued
- Pain in the lower back
If cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the symptoms might be specific to that type of cancer such as bone pain or frequent fractures if cancer has spread to the bones.
Read: Common causes of frequent urination in men
Lowering the risk of bladder cancer
While the risk of bladder cancer cannot be eliminated entirely, making some lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer. Some of these steps are
Consumption of tobacco in any form has been linked to a wide range of cancers including lung cancer, cancers of head and neck etc. Smoking is also one of the leading causes of bladder cancer.
Limit exposure to harmful chemicals
Certain chemicals are known to increase the risk of bladder cancer. There is a higher risk of exposure to such chemicals for people working in industries using leather, rubber, printing materials, textiles and paint. People working in salons are also at risk to these chemicals.
Studies suggest that increasing fluid intake can also reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer.
Follow a healthy diet
Following a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fresh fruits, lean protein etc and limiting your intake of empty carbohydrates and fat can help you lead a healthier life. Some studies do suggest that it can lower the risk of bladder cancer, however, there are no conclusive evidence to prove the same.
While controlling risk factors of bladder cancer such as age, gender, ethnicity and family history is not possible, the aforementioned factors are still in our control. As we grow older, the risk of developing bladder cancer also increases. Regular screening and health check-ups are vital to staying ahead of any health problems that may arise with age. For more information regarding your risk factor, you can reach our experts at the CK Birla Hospital, Gurgaon.