What is bladder cancer

Picture showing the anatomy of the bladderThe bladder is part of an individual’s urinary tract. Urine, produced by a person’s kidneys, enters into the bladder via a long tube called the ureter. The bladder, which resembles a hollow, balloon-shaped organ, is located in the lower abdomen area. Its job is to hold the urine until it’s expelled.

The bladder’s wall has a layer of tissues. The outer layer, which covers the bladder, has fibrous tissue, fat and blood vessels. The inner layer, also called the lining, is filled with transitional cells on its surface. As a person’s bladder fills with urine, those transitional cells stretch. Once the bladder is empty, the cells shrink. In between the inner and outer layers is the middle layer. This layer has muscle tissue. As an individual empties his or her bladder, the muscles in the middle layer squeeze the urine out of the organ.

Bladder cancer starts in the bladder, not in any other part of the body. The cancer that begins in the bladder can spread to other areas of the body and vice versa. The term “bladder cancer” is a misnomer. It sounds like the cancer forms in the entire organ. However, the cancer often starts in the cells located inside the bladder. These cells create the bladder’s tissues.

Normally, cells go through a process of growing and dividing to make new cells as the body needs them. When these cells grow too old or become damaged, they die. Since the normal cells are always reproducing, the new cells replace the damaged or old cells.

When a person develops bladder cancer, the entire grow, divide and die process goes wrong. Instead of the new cells developing as the body needs them, they continuous reproduce. The accumulated cells often become a tissue mass called a tumor or growth.

Illustration of how bladder cancer spreadThese tumors are either malignant or benign. Benign growths are not cancerous and aren’t as harmful. Malignant growths are cancerous. As the cells in a malignant tumor continue multiplying, its size increases. The malignant tumor starts to invade and overwhelm the other tissues surrounding it. In addition, it takes nutrients and oxygen the other tissues need to function and live. The process of the tumor overwhelming, spreading and invading to other areas is called metastasis.

The cancer in the bladder not only spread to other cells, it also spreads to other organs and lymph nodes. It can continue to spread to places like a person’s bones, lungs, liver and into the bloodstream.

Cancer can affect the cells located in the outer, middle and inner layers of the bladder. Generally, the cells located in the inner layer of the bladder are most likely to develop cancer. Each of the types of cancer located in the bladder has different names.

• Transitional Cell Carcinoma or Urothelial Carcinoma

This is cancer develops in the inner lining or bladder wall. In other words, in the transitional cells that expand or contract when the bladder is full or empty. These cells also line the inner part of the urethra and ureters. As the tumor develops, the cells undergo a change that causes uncontrolled cell growth.

• Adenocarcinoma

This cancer is located in the cells that make up a person’s glands. The glands are structures that produce and release fluid like mucus.

• Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of bladder cancer generally develops because the bladder became inflamed, infected or irritated over months or years. The cells start out as thin and flat before they start to multiply.

Overview of the causes and risk factors

The reason why a person develops bladder cancer isn’t always clear. However, scientists do have some ideas about what causes this type of cancer. Although the causes for bladder cancer may not be clear, there are some risk factors that increase an individual’s risk of developing the cancer. For example, smoking, exposure to certain types of chemicals, previous cancer treatments and certain diabetes medications can increase the risk of bladder cancer. Also, a person family history or the disease and chronic inflammations or urinary infections can escalate a person’s risk. For more information about bladder cancer’s causes and risks, visit the causes page.

Bladder cancer symptoms

The problem with many of the symptoms or signs associated with bladder cancer is that they are so non-specific. In other words, these signs are general and often indicate the start of the cancer. For instance, blood is often one of the first warning signs of bladder cancer. Unfortunately, the blood isn’t clearly visible to see. Typically, it won’t look bright red or have blood clots. Thus, a person may miss this important sign. In other cases, there is enough blood in a person’s urine to notice or change the color. So, a person may notice an orange or pink hue.

Overview of the warning signs for men

Blood in the urine, or hematuria, as indicated is one of the first manifestations. A man’s urine may appear:

• Red

• Dark amber

• Brown

• Dark yellow

• Bright red

These colors indicate blood in the urine. Also, the urine may be unusually cloudy.

Frequent urination is another sign. Sometimes this symptom can become a little confusing. Frequent urination refers to having to urinate more than five times within a 24-hour period. Also, it refers to feeling an urgency to urinate even though he isn’t able to do so or produces little urine. The reason frequent urination is a symptom of bladder cancer is because of the tumor. As the tumor increases, there is more pressure on the bladder.

Another indication of bladder cancer is painful urination. The cancer cells that develop in the tissues cause discomfort and pain when urinating. For example, he may notice intense pain that worsens during or briefly after urinating. The pain can feel like a burning, sharp or tearing pain.

Men can also experience symptoms not associated with the bladder like abdominal or back pain. Cancerous cells tend to irritate the bladder which causes pain to radiate into his lower back. Men can also experience sharp pain in the lower back.

Men may also notice small bumps or lumps in the groin or neck. The swollen lump could also appear in the pelvic area and indicates that there is a growth either around or in the bladder.

The manifestations of the disease in women

Pelvic pain is one of the symptoms of bladder cancerWomen with bladder cancer typically notice they are urinating more and more. For example, as the cancerous cells start growing along the inner layer of a woman’s bladder, there’s an increase in urinary sensation. In other words, a woman’s bladder becomes inflamed and/ or irritated. As a result, she may experience the constant, urgent need to urinate, even if she doesn’t have to. This may cause her to bear down, or strain, to empty her bladder.

Pain when urinating is another warning sign for women with bladder cancer. For women, this pain isn’t sharp or extreme. Instead, the pain feels more like a burning sensation when they are urinating. The burning sensation is often similar to the pain felt without other types of medical conditions like a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Hematuria is another presenting symptom for women with bladder cancer. The uncontrollable, cancerous growths not only irritate the bladder’s lining, but damage it too. When the bladder becomes damaged, blood cells seep from the inner layer of the bladder into the stored urine. As a woman passes urine, small amounts of blood also expels from the bladder. The color of the blood mixed urine varies. It can appear a dark red to a rust color. It may not be easy to detect at first.

Statistics show that bladder cancer occurs more frequently in men than in women. However, studies show that when women are diagnosed with bladder cancer they have more advanced tumors. Also, women often have a worse prognosis, or outcome, than men—regardless of the diagnosed stage of their cancer.

There are many reasons for this huge disparity between women and men when it comes to the diagnoses and prognosis of bladder cancer. Unfortunately, women tend to ignore the most basic and common sign associated with bladder cancer, hematuria.

Some women may mistake hematuria as a manifestation of menstruation. Other women, who are no longer of childbearing age, typically associate blood in the urine with menopause signs. In both instances, many women with undiagnosed bladder cancer tend to delay telling their physicians about noticing blood in their urine.

Another reason for the disparity between detecting symptoms associated with bladder cancer in women is misdiagnosis. Some women tell their doctors about their symptoms. However, the doctors may initially misdiagnose it as a bladder infection, simple cystitis, urinary tract infection or post-menopausal bleeding. Thus, this can prevent a correct diagnosis of bladder cancer from occurring for years.

It’s important for women to remember that bladder cancer can happen at any age. Also, it’s important to know the most common symptoms associated with bladder cancer such as:

• Hematuria

• Painful urination

• Frequent urination

• Pelvic pain

• Back pain

The symptoms of bladder cancer in advanced stage

The most common signs start in the beginning stages of bladder cancer. An individual may notice other signs as the bladder cancer reaches advanced stages. For instance, a person may experience swelling in his or her lower legs. Another advanced symptom is flank pain. Typically, the pain occurs in the lower back where the kidneys are located. A pelvic mass, which is a growth in the lower abdomen, may develop near the bladder.

More symptoms occur if the bladder cancer spreads to other areas of the body. For example, a person may notice he or she is losing weight. Anemia is another sign because of the loss of blood. If the blood loss is too great, a person may experience symptoms not associated with bladder cancer such as passing out, weakness or headaches. In addition to the pelvic pain, he or she may experience bone pain and / or pain in the anal or rectal areas.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It’s vital to make an appointment with a physician any time a person notices or think he or she is experiencing bladder cancer signs. This includes frequent urination and/ or blood in the urine. Yes, the manifestations of bladder cancer often mimic other medical conditions such as an STD, urinary tract infection or bladder infection. However, it’s important to rule out any other possible medical conditions. Sometimes people will watch and wait to see if symptoms disappear. They shouldn’t take this approach with symptoms associated with this cancer. Bladder cancer is serious and life-threatening. Taking immediate action means the different between catching bladder cancer early or in its advanced stages.

If an individual has already been diagnosed with the disease, following carefully doctor’s instructions is essential. Remember: call the physician to make an appointment when any new symptom occur. Also, make an appointment when the symptoms such as blood in the urine, frequent urination, back pain or painful urination worsens.

Preparing for a doctor’s appointment

Often, doctor’s appointments are brief. Thus, it’s important to prepare for the appointment before going to the doctor’s office. For example, an individual should write down any and all the symptoms he or she is experiencing. Include any symptoms that don’t appear to be directly related to bladder cancer. This information can help the physician make a proper diagnosis.

Also, write down any important personal information like any recent changes in lifestyle, life or stressful situations. Write down any questions you need answered like whether or not lumps in the groin can occur without signs associated with bladder cancer. Often, lumps and bumps can be associated with bladder cancer.

Know about and follow any pre-appointment restrictions. This requires asking about any restriction while making the appointment.

Anyone experiencing bladder cancer signs or symptoms should not delay in seeking medical attention. The symptoms can be an indication of another medical condition. However, the first step is talking to the doctor.