Bladder Cancer Symptoms, Signs, Causes, Treatments: What You Should Know
Veteran ‘Young and the Restless’ actor Eric Braeden recently revealed he has bladder cancer and detailed his diagnosis and immunotherapy treatment.
“I hate being so personal, but I think it could be good for some older men who may or may not listen,” Braeden, 82, said in a Facebook Live video of various described health problems that ultimately led to the discovery of cancer.
But what exactly is bladder cancer? What are treatments like? Is this something avoidable?
The most important thing to remember: “There is hope,” says Dr. Daniel Petrylak, chief of genitourinary oncology at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital.
What are the Symptoms of Bladder Cancer? Warning signals?
Bladder cancer can lead to non-specific symptoms, according to Petrylak, including:
- blood in the urine
- difficulty urinating
- Burning when urinating
According to the National Cancer Institute, if the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body, you might experience the following symptoms:
- stomach pain
- Lower back pain on one side
- Bone pain/tenderness
- unintentional weight loss/loss of appetite
- feet swell
- unable to pee
- feel exhausted
How is bladder cancer diagnosed?
Doctors usually make the diagnosis by looking at the urine under a microscope, or a urologist will go inside the bladder to take a look and biopsy lesions. It can be detected at any stage, but most bladder cancers are detected early, according to Petrylak.
If you have bleeding or any unusual urinary tract infections or symptoms, talk to your doctor. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cancer—any irritation or disruption to the bladder can cause bleeding.
Nevertheless: “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” says Petrylak.
What Causes Bladder Cancer?
Risk factors include smoking, exposure to certain chemicals in drinking water, and genetics.
“Many of my patients are shocked when we tell them that smoking was the cause of their bladder cancer,” says Petrylak. “Because they say, ‘Well, I thought smoking caused lung cancer.’ And the answer is no. It causes other types of cancer and actually the carcinogens get filtered out of the smoke into the urine and then they sit there exposing themselves to the bladder.”
Bladder cancer is more common in men – the fourth most common type of cancer – than in women, with no clear answer as to why. According to the American Cancer Society, men have a 1 in 28 chance of developing bladder cancer, while women have a 1 in 91 chance.
About 9 out of 10 bladder cancer patients are over 55 years old; 73 years old is the average age of diagnosis.
What types of bladder cancer are there?
There are two kinds:
- Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. This is the most common type and means the cancer has not reached the muscular wall of the bladder.
- Muscle invasive bladder cancer. This type spreads through the lining of the bladder and into the muscular wall of the bladder, possibly beyond.
What is the survival rate for bladder cancer?
The chances of survival depend on the individual patient, of course, but also on whether the cancer has spread. Overall, people across all stages have a 77% chance of surviving five years after diagnosis, but the odds vary greatly when they are wide-ranging (8%).
According to the American Cancer Society, there will be approximately 82,290 new cases of bladder cancer in the United States in 2023. About 62,420 of those cases will be men and 19,870 women.
About 16,710 people will die from bladder cancer this year – 12,160 men and 4,550 women.
Visit the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network for support.
Is Bladder Cancer Curable?
Yes. Muscle-invasive bladder cancer can be cured with surgery or chemotherapy. Immunotherapy in the bladder itself can be used non-muscle-invasively.
Some doctors can eventually remove people’s blisters, but people can still lead relatively normal lives. For example, there are continental diversions that can help bladder cancer survivors urinate normally even without bags or other devices.
Best advice now? “Quit smoking,” says Petrylak. “There is no reason to smoke at this point. We have so much evidence that cardiovascular disease, cancer and all of this is tobacco related and we clearly want to prevent it from happening.”
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