Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and the eighth most common in women, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It is expected to be diagnosed in 38,000 men and 15,000 women in the United States in 2003. Treatment is most successful when the disease is caught early.
Answering common questions about bladder cancer is Colin Dinney, M.D., professor in the M. D. Anderson Department of Urology and director of the institution’s $13.9 million bladder cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant project.
What are common symptoms of bladder cancer?
- Blood in the urine that is:
- Visible (dark red)
- Intermittent (occasional)
Who is at most risk of bladder cancer?
- Workers with industrial occupations
- People in their late 60s
- Men and women, but men more commonly
- People with chronic bladder inflammation
- Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and ifosfamide chemotherapy patients
- People exposed to arsenic
- Whites, more than members of other races
- People with relatives who’ve had bladder cancer
- Children with two rare birth defects
(Read more details about each risk factor)
Is there a way to prevent bladder cancer?
Not smoking is the most important thing a person can to do help prevent bladder cancer. If you already have bladder cancer, you should still stop smoking because bladder cancer often recurs, and smoking could bring about a recurrence.
Remember what your mother told you, and drink plenty of water and maintain a balanced diet. There is no absolute scientific proof that this will prevent bladder cancer, although it certainly can’t hurt.
What can people do to improve early detection?
People should be alert to blood in their urine if it is painless and grossly red. They should seek medical attention and not be satisfied if they are told they may only have an infection.
How treatable is bladder cancer?
If caught early, bladder cancer is a curable disease. If caught late, it is more difficult.
How is bladder cancer treated?
Early-stage bladder cancer is not life-threatening, but it comes back later most of the time. In early-stage treatment – when the cancer has not yet spread – we use a cystoscope to cut away the tumor and tissue surrounding it. If we feel a person is at high risk for recurrence, we will add chemotherapy or Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), a form of the tuberculosis vaccine.
(Read more details about early-stage, or superficial, bladder cancer treatment)
What makes people at high risk for recurrence is if:
- They have a high-grade tumor (one that is likely to grow and spread quickly)
- The tumor has invaded the wall of the bladder
- There are multiple tumors
- There are large tumors
- They have what is known as carcinoma in situ, which is an invasive form of the disease confined to the lining of the bladder.
If the cancer recurs, we treat it with chemotherapy or immune therapies. The majority of bladder cancers are superficial, meaning they haven’t gone beyond the bladder muscle.
Late-stage bladder cancer – In later-stage bladder cancer, when tumors have spread deeper into the bladder muscle, we use surgery to remove the bladder or a combination of chemotherapy and surgery if the tumor is more extensive. Using chemotherapy before surgery has been found to improve patient survival.
(Read more details about late-stage, or invasive, bladder cancer treatment)
What are the goals of the bladder cancer SPORE?
The goal of the bladder cancer SPORE is to facilitate innovative translational research (research that moves quickly from the laboratory to the patient) in the prevention, detection and treatment of urothelial cancer, leading eventually to the elimination of this disease.
Specifically, our goals are:
- Improving the early diagnosis of bladder cancer
- Identifying patients with superficial bladder cancer who are at high risk for recurrence and progression
- Developing effective treatment of superficial bladder cancer that will prevent recurrence and progression and preserve normal bladder function (One area being developed is gene therapy)
- Understanding which patients with bladder cancer are likely to respond to a given therapy, so that we can do a better job of selecting the best treatment
- Studying therapies for the more advanced disease
- Creating a national advocacy group to educate the public about the disease