Bladder Cancer: What You Need to Know
Bladder Cancer is a disease that sneaks up on those it attacks. It often presents itself with confusing, slight, or no symptoms and can take patients by surprise when they receive the diagnosis. Hematuria or blood in the urine can be an early warning sign and should be immediately investigated.
To help educate and recognize those who suffer with and treat this disease, the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) has named July as Bladder Cancer Awareness Month.
It is the fifth most common cancer in the United States, with 450,000 cases diagnosed each year. In that same period, this disease causes 150,000 deaths. Bladder cancer also has the highest recurrence rate than all cancers: between 50 and 80 percent of patients see the cancer return.
The number one risk factor is smoking. Also at risk are those who have been exposed to chemicals used in the rubber, dye, leather, printing, textile and paint industries. Professions that have a higher than average risk include firefighters, hairdressers, and veterans.
Bladder cancer is most prevalent in older men over the age of 50. However, it can affect women of any age and tends to have worse results for them. That’s because its symptoms are often confused with a bladder infection. The main symptom, blood in the urine, also is often confused with menstruation.
The confusing symptoms lead women to take them less seriously and many put off getting proper help. As a result, because they wait longer for treatment, women are likely to have more advanced tumors at diagnosis.
Like other cancers, bladder cancer has a higher likelihood of being cured if it is caught early. But because women as a whole tend to wait to get diagnosed, they have a worse survival rate than men.
The traditional treatment for bladder tumors was surgery to remove them, often followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. But today, says OHC physician Ben Herms, there are other treatments being used.
One involves using chemotherapy as a first step, rather than after surgery. Dr. Herms explains that this reversal in procedure often shrinks the tumor so the surgery that follows is less invasive.
There are also some new drug therapies that don’t necessarily attack the tumor, but instead help the body fight it.
One bladder cancer clinical trial — now screening patients at OHC — involves the use of a PDL-1 Inhibitor. Dr. Herms says this therapy is intended to ramp up the body’s immune system so that it recognizes the cancer and then acts to destroy the tumor cells.
In fact, according to Herms, medical research is taking cancer treatment in that direction: creating therapies using molecular targeting and the patient’s immune system. While this seems to be the future of cancer treatment, there are some things you can do today to reduce your bladder cancer risk.
First, don’t smoke. It is by far the leading risk factor for bladder cancer. If you are already a smoker, then quit.
Second, if you notice blood in your urine, or observe urine that is brown or orange in color, see a physician immediately. This is the most frequent symptom of bladder cancer, and it is often overlooked.
Finally, if you have symptoms of a bladder infection, get checked as soon as possible. If the symptoms persist after you’ve completed an antibiotic treatment for the infection, then ask your physician for a further evaluation.
According to the BCAN, just taking these few simple steps can help you avoid and survive bladder cancer. BCAN is dedicated to educating the public about this disease. Oncologists and clinical trial researchers at OHC, like Dr. Herms, are dedicated to eradicating it.
Benjamin T. Herms, MD is an OHC medical oncologist who practices at OHC’s Anderson and Clermont County, Ohio, and Maysville, Kentucky locations. His specialties include genitourinary malignancies (genital and urinary systems), genitourinary research, and palliative care.