What causes bladder cancer and what I can do to prevent it?
Bladder cancer is commoner in men than women and gets more common as you grow older – although it can strike at any age, including childhood. In adults it is strongly related to cigarette smoking and industrial pollution.
The urine carries potential cancer causing chemicals [carcinogens] that we have inhaled or ingested – so the bladder [which stores urine for hours] is exposed for long periods of time to very small amounts of these chemicals.
Cigarette smoking is the commonest cause of bladder cancer and is known to be responsible for an estimated 40-70% of all cases of bladder cancer. Smokers' risks of bladder cancer are 2-3 times higher compared to non-smokers. It is therefore mostly a preventable condition.
The link with cancer is on every packet of cigarettes sold in the UK. The more you smoke, the longer you have smoked for, the greater the risk.
The role of passive smoking is not proven, but it seems likely that second hand smoke is just as harmful. It seems reasonable to assume passive smoking is a risk to others including children.
- Occupational/industrial exposure
There is also a link between some occupations and bladder cancer. Workers in the dyeing and rubber industries and those exposed to some specific chemicals such as the following are known to be at risk:
- Aniline dyes
- Aromatic amines used in
- Rubber manufacture [Nonox S - no longer used]
- Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
The risk of bladder cancer amongst hairdressers using hair dyes has been the subject of research and is inconclusive.
Chronic urinary infection is a less common cause of bladder cancer in the western world. It occurs mostly in older women but another specific tropical infection, called bilharzia, accounts for a very large number of cases in Egypt and other parts of Africa. Infection usually causes a different type of bladder cancer to that commonly diagnosed, called a squamous cancer.
- Some drugs/ treatments used in medicine
- Phenacetin (a pain reliever)
- Cyclophosphamide (used in the treatment of some cancers)
- Previous radiotherapy for cervical cancer (usually many years before)
- Possibly coffee in excess
- Possibly soya extracts
Reducing the Risk
The risk of bladder cancer can be much reduced by not smoking, and also perhaps by a healthy lifestyle, possibly drinking a good fluid intake (hence passing urine more often) and a healthy diet rich in fresh vegetables.
Bladder cancer is a preventable disease in many cases – it is never too late to stop smoking!