Bladder cancer is more common than you think. It affects 70,000 new patients each year, and fortunately the diagnosis is usually made when the concern is still confined to the bladder, making treatment much easier. Although we often link tobacco use and lung cancer, the vast majority of bladder cancer patients are former or current cigarette smokers, making this the number one risk factor in developing this health issues. In addition, other risk factors include age over 40, men are more afflicted than woman, certain parasite infections, and exposure to certain chemicals and dyes. The most common symptoms include blood in the urine, burning with urination and voiding frequently.
Diagnosis is made by an urologist, a surgeon trained in disorders of the urinary tract. A telescope is passed into the bladder through the urethra and visual confirmation of a tumor is made. This is called cystoscopy. It is an easy and painless procedure, using modern equipment and local anesthetic agents.
Early treatment is key; the tumors are scraped from the bladder using special telescopes, or burned with a laser. After treatment, the risk that the tumor comes back is high. It is important for the patient to quit smoking, should that be the cause, and that the patient returns for repeat testing on a frequent basis. If the tumor is caught too late and the cancer has invaded deeply into the bladder, then removal of the whole bladder, known as a radical cystectomy, is required. Modern ways of removing the bladder include use of the daVinci surgical robot in a mostly laparoscopic procedure. This diminishes complications, blood loss and pain. Be sure to have your urine checked when you see your primary care doctor, especially if you are a smoker. Early diagnosis of this concern is a life saver.