Many of the symptoms of bladder cancer are nonspecific, often leading people to confuse these warning signs (burning with urination, urinary urgency) with bladder infections or prostate problems, according to Dr. Shammai Rockove, head urologist at the Center for Men’s and Women’s Urology in Gresham. A telltale symptom of bladder cancer is finding blood in the urine, either clearly visible in the toilet or under the microscope from a physician-ordered test.
“The good news is that most bladder cancers found in the early stages are curable,” Rockove said. “Even more advanced cases are now being successfully treated.”
Though both genders can develop bladder cancer, it is a disease that significantly affects more men than women, Rockove reported. According to the American Cancer Society, 61,000 men a year in the U.S. receive a diagnosis of bladder cancer and 17,000 men a year die from it.
“So often the response to the diagnosis is, ‘I never even heard of it,’” Rockove said. “This lack of public awareness can lead to delays in diagnosis. Though there can be other reasons, never ignore blood in your urine. Also, if you have discomforting sensations with the urination process and an obvious source of this can’t be identified, you must see a urologist for proper testing.”
The best test for bladder cancer is a cystoscopy, which involves looking into the bladder with a thin scope, Rockove said. “For most people, this is very well-tolerated in the office with some local numbing gel,” he said. “When necessary, this test can be done with full anesthesia.”
For prevention of bladder cancer, Rockove recommends hydration and avoiding exposure to known toxins. “Hydration is important,” he said. “The urine gets diluted and passes out of the body faster. The quicker it leaves the body, the less interaction it has with the bladder.”
Urine plays an important role in ridding the body of toxins, even ones that enter the body by breathing. These inhaled toxins, Rockove noted, have a strong link to bladder cancer.
“By far, cigarette smoking is the main cause of bladder cancer,” he said. “Toxins from inhaled cigarette or other smoke, fumes from diesel fuel or chemicals exit the body through the urine. When these toxins sit in the bladder, they can irritate and inflame the tissue, potentially leading to cancer.”
To prevent inhaling toxins, the most important decision is not to smoke, Rockove emphasized. In other aspects of life, attention to safety can make a big difference.
“Make sure the areas you work in that have potential toxic fumes, for instance your home shop and garage, are properly ventilated and that you wear proper breathing filter apparatus when working in these areas” he said. “They may be a nuisance, but they are for your safety.”