Cancer InDepth: Bladder Cancer
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Bladder cancer is an abnormal and unregulated growth of the cells that make up the urinary bladder.
The urinary bladder is a hollow, muscular organ located in the pelvic cavity. In females, it is in front of the vagina. In males, it is in front of the rectum. The bladder stores urine produced by the kidneys. Urine from each kidney travel down the ureters and into the bladder. This urine is stored in the bladder until it is discharged from the body.
A bladder tumor grows when cells of the bladder become cancerous. These cancer cells begin to divide and multiply more quickly than normal cells. Cancer cells cannot organize themselves in a normal way, and have the capability to invade other normal tissue.
There are two major types of bladder cancer: papillary and nonpapillary. A papillary bladder tumor is a warty growth that is attached to the bladder by a stalk. A nonpapillary bladder tumor lies flat against the bladder tissue itself, and has the potential to be more serious. The majority of bladder tumors are papillary.
Who Is Affected
Bladder cancer is the second most common type of tumor that affects the genitourinary tract, which includes the kidney, bladder, and reproductive organs. Prostate cancer is the most common. Bladder cancer is the fourth most common type of solid tumor in men and the eighth most common in women. The average age at diagnosis is 65.
Men are more likely than women to develop bladder cancer. Approximately five men to every two women will be diagnosed with the disease. Caucasians are more likely than African-Americans to develop bladder cancer.
Causes and Complications
Most people who develop bladder cancer seem to have been exposed to certain toxic substances. Smokers are particularly likely to develop bladder cancer, possibly due to the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco. Industrial chemicals are also known to cause bladder cancer, including those use in the rubber, leather, textile, paint, printing, and hairdressing industries. Other things that irritate the bladder over long periods of time, such parasites, bladder stones, or chronic, untreated bladder infections, can also make the bladder more likely to develop cancer.
Left to grow over time, a bladder tumor will destroy and replace normal bladder tissue. Untreated, cancer cells from the bladder can invade other tissues within the pelvis, such as the lymph nodes, ureters, vagina, uterus, prostate, and rectum. In advanced cases, bladder cancer cells can also travel through the body, causing cancer to invade other organs and tissues, including the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bones.
Bladder cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/bladdercancer/ . Accessed June 5, 2013.
Bladder cancer. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=100 . Updated March 2013. Accessed June 5, 2013.
What you need to know about bladder cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/bladder . Updated August 30, 2010. Accessed June 5, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 5/17/2014
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