What is Bladder Cancer? Its Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Bladder cancer can have serious effects on a person's health if not treated in a timely manner. Bladder cancer and its treatment can also have a significant impact on a person's quality of life. The symptoms of bladder cancer such as blood in urine, frequent urination, and pain during urination can be distressing and the treatment options can have side effects such as fatigue, nausea, and sexual dysfunction.
Some tumours can grow into the muscle layers of the bladder, making them harder to remove surgically. In some cases, the bladder may need to be removed completely (radical cystectomy) which can cause permanent incontinence and the need for a urinary diversion (like an ileal conduit or a neobladder).
It's important to note that these potential effects can vary greatly depending on the stage of cancer, the patient's overall health, and the treatment options are chosen. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve the outcome for people with bladder cancer.
What is Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the bladder, which is the organ in the body that stores urine. It is usually divided into two types: those that don't get into the muscle (also called "superficial") and those that do. Non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer is limited to the bladder's inner lining and is usually treated with surgery or medicine.
Muscle-invasive bladder cancer, on the other hand, has spread beyond the inner lining of the bladder and may need more extensive treatment, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Blood in the urine, pain or discomfort while urinating, and having to go to the bathroom often are all signs of bladder cancer.
Types of Bladder Cancer
There are several types of bladder cancer, but the most common types are:
- Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC): This type of cancer starts in the cells that line the inside of the bladder and can spread to the muscle wall of the bladder.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cancer starts in the squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the bladder. It is more common in people with a history of bladder infections or other inflammatory conditions.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of cancer starts in the epithelial cells, which are cells that make and release mucus. It is a rare type of bladder cancer.
- Sarcoma: This is a rare type of cancer that starts in the connective tissue of the bladder.
- Small cell carcinoma: This is a rare and aggressive type of cancer that starts in the small cells of the bladder.
It's important to note that the type of bladder cancer will determine the treatment and prognosis.
Causes of Bladder cancer
Bladder cancer is caused by mutations in the DNA of cells in the bladder. These mutations allow the cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, forming a tumour. Risk factors for bladder cancer include smoking, exposure to certain chemicals, a family history of the disease, and certain medical conditions such as chronic bladder infections and bladder stones.
Other potential risk factors include exposure to certain chemicals and dyes, radiation therapy, and medications. It's important to note that having a risk factor does not necessarily mean that a person will develop bladder cancer, and many people with the disease do not have any known risk factors.
What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?
The symptoms of bladder cancer can vary, but they may include the following:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria), which may be visible or only detected through a urine test
- Frequent urination or a strong urge to urinate
- Pain or burning during urination
- Low back pain on one side
- A feeling of not being able to empty the bladder completely
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, such as urinary tract infections or benign (non-cancerous) growths in the bladder, so it's important to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. A doctor will be able to perform a physical examination and any necessary tests to determine the cause of the symptoms.
What are the treatment options available?
There are several treatment options for bladder cancer, including:
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for bladder cancer. The type of surgery depends on the stage of cancer. For early-stage cancer, a procedure called transurethral resection of bladder tumour (TURBT) can be used to remove the tumour without removing the whole bladder. For more advanced cases, a procedure called radical cystectomy may be needed to remove the bladder, prostate, and nearby lymph nodes.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given before or after surgery to shrink the tumour or kill any remaining cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: It is a new type of treatment that helps the patient's own immune system to fight cancer.
- Radiation therapy: radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used before or after surgery, or as a primary treatment for advanced cancer.
- Bladder instillations: liquid chemotherapy or immunotherapy is introduced directly into the bladder through a catheter.
The treatment plan is tailored to the individual patient and will depend on several factors, including the stage and grade of cancer, the patient's overall health, and their preferences.
It's important to consult with a specialist, such as a urologist or medical oncologist, who can help you understand the options and recommend the best course of treatment for your specific case.