Bladder cancer is a serious condition that comes as a result of an abnormal bladder cell growth. The cells undergoing abnormal growth come up together forming a mass of cells called tumors. For bladder cancer, the abnormal growth begins in the inner lining of the organ, which later spreads to the muscles and other body parts if untreated.
The bladder is an important organ of the urinary tract that functions as a storage for your urine until you are ready to urinate. In a bladder cancer, your urinary process is completely altered.
Bladder cancer can be successfully treated if diagnosed at its early stages. Among the diagnostic procedures for bladder cancer are its signs and symptoms. Although the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer are somewhat similar to other urinary tract infections, it is an added advantage to know the specific symptoms of bladder cancer.
Risk Factors for Bladder Cancer
Although there are no exact causes of bladder cancer, there are some risk factors that have been seen to increase one’s chances of developing such type of cancer. If you have been exposed to or have the following risk factors, it will be easier to tell whether your signs and symptoms are of bladder cancer. The risk factors include:
- Smoking - Smoking has been seen as the leading risk factor for bladder cancer. Cigarette smokers are four to seven times likely to develop bladder cancer compared to non-smokers.
- Age - aged or older people are likely to develop bladder cancer when compared to the young due to their weakened immune system.
- Chemicals - some chemicals used in the manufacturing of dyes, rubber, leather, and textile industries can accelerate the development of bladder cancer.
- Race - according to statistics, White people are more likely to develop bladder cancer compared to Black people as a result of the difference in their environment.
- Chronic bladder diseases - some bladder complications such as bladder stones can increase the risk of developing bladder cancer. Other urinary tracts infections catalyze the development of bladder cancer as well.
- Type 2 diabetes drugs - there are drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes that can increase the risk of bladder cancer development. One of the drugs is pioglitazone hydrochloride.
- Cancer history - individuals who have a history of bladder cancer have high chances of its recurrence.
- Chemotherapy drugs - people who are taking some chemotherapy drugs such as cyclophosphamide increase their risk of bladder cancer development.
- Exposure to arsenic - arsenic can a very dangerous chemical if it is consumed in large quantities. This chemical is mostly found in drinking water and has been linked with bladder cancer development.
- Schistosomiasis - is a parasitic disease that mostly affects people who live in North Africa and the Mediterranean region. People living with untreated schistosomiasis for a long time have an increased chance of developing bladder cancer.
Common Signs and Symptoms
Presence of blood in your urine (hematuria)
One of the major symptoms of bladder cancer is hematuria, which is the presence of blood in the urine. Hematuria is the first sign of bladder cancer and can be used as a diagnosis for this type of cancer. At times, there is an increased count of red blood cells in the urine that changes its color to pink, orange, and sometimes brown. Other times, the color of your urine may remain normal but small particles of blood are found when a urinalysis (urine test) is done during your medical checkup.
Blood found in your urine as a result of bladder cancer can be variable. It may be present today and absent tomorrow. Your urine can even remain normal for weeks and months, and then urine discoloration may reappear. During the early stages of bladder cancer, bleeding or the presence of blood in the urine can increase with less or no pain among other symptoms.
You should also know that the presence of blood in your urine does not necessarily mean that you have blood cancer. Other underlying medical conditions such as kidney and bladder stones can also cause hematuria. Other non-cancerous tumors and benign kidney infections can result to hematuria as well. It is, therefore, important to go for a checkup to diagnose the cause of your condition.
Bladder habit change
In case you have a bladder cancer, you may experience unusual changes, especially when you try to pass urine. The symptoms include:
- a burning sensation or pain during urination
- having difficulty in urinating
- development of a weak stream of urine
- frequent urination that is more than normal
- a feeling to urinate at any given time even when your bladder is empty
The listed symptoms are also caused by other urinary tract diseases, therefore, diagnosing the symptoms can be confusing sometimes. Some other UTI infections causing the symptoms are bladder stones, enlarged prostate, and an overactive bladder. It is, therefore, important to visit your doctor for a checkup to diagnose the cause of your symptoms.
For bladder cancer that has invaded the muscles and other organs (advanced bladder cancer), the signs and symptoms are different from those of other early stages. The symptoms are:
- feeling weak
- unusual tiredness
- difficulty during urination
- pain on one side of the lower abdomen
- weight loss
- reduced appetite
- bone pain
- swelling of the feet
Once again, you should know that these symptoms can be misleading. It is better to seek your doctor’s advice to be properly diagnosed. The cause of the symptoms might be due to another underlying medical condition rather than bladder cancer.
When should I seek medical advice?
In case you have blood in the urine at any point of your life, even if it is variable, you need to seek your doctor’s advice or go for a medical checkup as soon as possible. Having blood in your urine does not necessarily mean that you have bladder cancer. There are also other factors that can lead to this situation. They include:
- urinary tract infections such as cystitis
- prostate cancer in men
- prostate enlargement in men
- kidney stones
However, if you have the above-listed risk factors for a long period of time, there is a high probability that the signs and symptoms are as a result of bladder cancer. You should seek your medical specialist immediately for further investigation.
Aside from a urinalysis, your doctor may also request other laboratory tests for your urine, which include:
- Urine cytology - your urine sample will be examined under the microscope to check the presence of pre-cancer or cancer cells. This test can also use bladder washings that are taken during a cystoscopy.
The Bottom Line
Bladder cancer is one of the most serious conditions affecting the urinary tract. One of the major symptoms of bladder cancer is the presence of blood in the urine. Sometimes, the presence of blood in the urine can be noticed if the urine changes its normal color from amber yellow to pink or even brown. However, most of the time, hematuria is properly detected through a urinalysis (urine test).
It is not easy to identify bladder cancer by its symptoms since they resemble those of other UTI infections such as bladder stones, prostate enlargement, and kidney infections, among others. Thus, it is advisable to seek medical attention in case you experience UTI-related symptoms.