Your risk of bladder cancer rises with smoking and exposure to chemicals
Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes, and being exposed to industrial chemicals can increase your risk of bladder cancer, one of the 10 most common cancers among men in Singapore. This cancer of the urinary system usually occurs in adults aged 50 to 70 years. It is about five times more common in men than women.
Bladder cancer typically arises in the inner lining of the urinary bladder, a muscular sac in the pelvic region that stores urine before it is excreted.
“The main risk factor is smoking which accounts for about half of all bladder cancer cases. Occupational exposure to certain chemicals is the second most important risk factor for bladder cancer. This type of occupational exposure occurs mainly in industrial plants, which process paint, dye, metal and petroleum products,” says Dr Kenneth Chen, Associate Consultant, Department of Urology, Singapore General Hospital.
Chronic urinary infection/inflammation and a family history of bladder cancer can also increase your risk of bladder cancer.
Symptoms of bladder cancer
Blood in the urine
Pain or burning sensation during urination
Pain in the abdomen or pelvis
Swelling in the legs
“Visible blood in the urine is the most important and common presenting symptom,” says Dr Chen.
How is bladder cancer diagnosed and treated?
Your doctor may perform a biopsy and a cystoscopy and use imaging tests to diagnose bladder cancer which is highly treatable if it is detected early.
Superficial tumours in the bladder lining can be removed with a cystoscope (narrow tube with a lens). However, if you have a tumour which has penetrated deep into the bladder wall, you may require surgery to remove the bladder as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
“If left untreated, bladder cancer will progress indefinitely, causing symptoms of bleeding (blood in urine), pain and even blockage of urine flow from the kidney leading to kidney failure. There may be symptoms arising from the spread of the tumour to other parts of the body, e.g. bones causing bone pain or lymph nodes causing swelling in the legs,” says Dr Chen.
Since bladder cancer can recur, you will need follow-up testing for several years after treatment.
Can bladder cancer be prevented?
“Smoking cessation forms the most important primary prevention. Proper contact precaution when dealing with carcinogenic chemicals in certain occupations helps lower the risk as well,” says Dr Chen.
You can also prevent bladder cancer by following safety instructions when handling industrial chemicals and getting medical help for chronic urinary infection/inflammation.
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