The most important thing you can do to protect your bladder
Your bladder probably is not your favourite topic of conversation but knowing when to talk to your doctor about it is crucial to your health.
If you experience frequent and/or painful urination, or you notice blood in your urine, telling your primary care provider is the first step to diagnosing a problem and finding the right care.
More often than not, these symptoms are caused by non-life-threatening conditions like urinary tract infection, overactive bladder or, in men, an enlarged prostate. But they also could be symptoms of bladder cancer.
While it’s worth addressing any condition that’s causing you pain or discomfort, in the case of bladder cancer, early diagnosis is key.
As with many cancers, bladder cancer is most treatable when it’s caught in the early stages and more challenging to treat when diagnosed later.
“Because there is no routine screening for bladder cancer, as there is for breast or colon cancer, the number one tool we have for diagnosing bladder cancer early is when a primary care doctor orders a urine test that finds blood in the urine,” says Dr Edward Cherullo a urologist at Rush University. “Always tell your doctor if you see blood in your urine.”
Your doctor may then refer you to a urologist for further testing and treatment.
Who is at risk for bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer is more than three times as common in men as in women, and it occurs later in life: 90 per cent of patients diagnosed with bladder cancer are over the age of 55.
Though people who have a sibling, parent or child with bladder cancer are more likely to have it, it is rarely hereditary.
The good news is that the most common risk factor is one that can be controlled: smoking.
“Everyone knows smoking causes lung cancer, but they don’t always know about bladder cancer,” says Dr Srinivas Vourganti a Rush University urologist who specialises in treating bladder and other urinary tract cancers.
In fact, smokers are three times more likely to get bladder cancer than non-smokers.
“The same harmful chemicals you inhale when you smoke accumulate in your urine, and as the bladder holds urine, it is exposed to these toxins at a higher rate than other parts of the body,” Dr Vourganti says.
For similar reasons, exposure to second-hand smoke and toxic solvents and dyes also are significant risk factors. So are recurring urinary tract infections and other sources of chronic bladder irritation.
Yet, smoking is cited as the cause in more than half of all cases, so quitting smoking (or never starting) greatly reduces your chance of developing bladder cancer.
Have you ever noticed blood in your urine? Have you had it checked?