Top Five Things to Know About Bladder Cancer

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Approximately 72,000 new cases of bladder cancer will be diagnosed in 2013 and it is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the US. However, bladder cancer is rarely discussed and it’s a disease that often shows slight or no symptoms. Physicians with WellSpring Oncology, the Pinellas cancer treatment center, explain the top 5 things to know about bladder cancer during Bladder Cancer Awareness Month.

1. The most frequent symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine – a signal to see a doctor immediately. It can be visible (though it may sometimes appear dark brown, dark yellow or orange) but could also only be detected under a microscopic examination. Board Certified Radiation Oncologist with the Pinellas cancer treatment center, Robert Miller, MD, explains that many women ignore or associate symptoms like blood in the urine with menstruation or menopause and delay reporting issues to their doctor.

“As a result of delayed reporting, studies have shown that women are more likely to present more advanced tumors and have worse prognosis and survival rates than men,” Dr. Miller says. “That’s why it is so important for everyone to know his or her risk factors and see a physician right away, even with subtle symptoms.”

2. Smoking is the biggest risk factor. A recent study by the National Cancer Institute showed that half of all bladder cancers in women can be attributed to smoking – and this is similar to the proportion found in men in current and previous studies. Other risk factors for bladder cancer include exposure to chemicals found in the rubber, dye, leather, printing, textile and paint industries, as well as a history of chronic bladder inflammation.

3. Bladder cancer symptoms may be identical to common bladder infections. Most bleeding associated with bladder cancer is painless, however, about 30 percent of bladder cancer patients experience similar symptoms to common infections. These include burning, frequent urination, or a sensation of incomplete emptying when they urinate. Less common symptoms include painful urination, backaches, abdominal pain or weight loss.

“It is important to talk to your doctor if you are diagnosed with a common bladder disorder like urinary tract infection and symptoms do not disappear after treatment with antibiotics,” says Dr. Miller. “Insist on further evaluation, as it may be a symptom of more serious condition.”

4. Bladder cancer is most commonly diagnosed in men over 50, however, it can affect women at any age. Board Certified Radiation Oncologist with the Pinellas cancer treatment center, Debra Freeman, MD, explains how important early diagnosis is.

“The most important things to be aware of are the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer and see a physician if you experience them,” Dr. Freeman says. “While age is often a contributing factor, bladder cancer can affect women of all ages.”

5. Advances in treatment have led to higher rates of bladder preservation. Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) delivered using TomoTherapy is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or surgery to preserve the bladder and prevent bladder cancer from recurring.

“Radiation therapy is a treatment choice if surgery is not recommended for another medical reason,” Dr. Miller says. “IMRT also has demonstrated efficacy when used to treat pain in advanced bladder cancer.”

For more information about bladder cancer, visit cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/bladder