Your bladder health doesn’t get the same attention as your heart or lungs, but it’s just as important. This hollow organ in the lower pelvis is the unsung hero of your body’s waste management system, storing and releasing urine through a complex system of nerves, muscles, tissues and tubes. But what happens when this humble organ faces a not-so-humble challenge like bladder cancer?

May is technically Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, but we believe this important topic deserves more than just a month of attention. After all, bladder cancer accounts for 4% of cancers in the United States and is the fourth most common cancer in men. It also holds the dubious distinction of having the highest recurrence rate of any type of cancer, with a whopping 50-80% chance of returning. These statistics aren’t just numbers—they’re a clear call for awareness, prevention, and early treatment.

Bladder cancer might not make headlines like other cancers, but it’s a critical health issue that can affect anyone. By understanding the risks, signs, and preventive measures, you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. Let’s dive into the details of understanding and preventing bladder cancer to ensure you’re well-informed and ready to act.

What is Bladder Cancer?

The bladder wall is made of several layers, and each is composed of different types of cells. Bladder cancer begins when these cells grow uncontrollably. As these cells multiply and spread they can form into tumors and, if left untreated, spread into deeper layers or other parts of your body. According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancer tends to spread to the lymph nodes, bones, lungs or liver.

The most common form of bladder cancer is urothelial carcinoma, or transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). This type of cancer begins in the urothelial cells that line the inside of your bladder and accounts for about 90% of all bladder cancers in the U.S.

Bladder Cancer Signs and Symptoms

The number one sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. While bloody urine can be attributed to other, less serious conditions, sudden or inexplicable blood in your urine means a doctor visit is in order. Other symptoms of bladder cancer may include frequent urination, pain or burning when urinating, and persistent pain in the lower back or pelvic area.

Bladder Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of bladder cancer isn’t always clear, but several factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. These are the most common causes behind bladder cancer:


Smoking is the leading cause of bladder cancer. Tobacco smoke contains harmful chemicals that enter your bloodstream and eventually get filtered by the kidneys into the urine. These chemicals can damage the lining of the bladder, increasing the risk of cancer.

Chemical Exposure

Certain industrial chemicals, particularly those used in the dye, rubber, leather, paint, and printing industries, are linked to bladder cancer. Workers exposed to these chemicals over long periods are at higher risk.

Chronic Bladder Irritation and Infections

Long-term bladder infections, inflammation, and irritations – such as those caused by repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs) or long-term use of urinary catheters – can increase the risk of bladder cancer.

Radiation Therapy

Previous radiation treatments to the pelvic area can increase the risk of bladder cancer. This is especially relevant for those who have undergone radiation therapy for other cancers in the pelvic region.

Certain Medications

Some medications used to treat other health conditions can increase the risk of bladder cancer. For instance, the diabetes medication pioglitazone (Actos) has been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer after one year of use.

Genetic Factors

While most bladder cancers are not inherited, certain genetic mutations and family history can play a role. For instance, people with a family history of bladder cancer or certain genetic syndromes are at a higher risk.

Age and Gender

Bladder cancer predominantly affects older adults, with most cases occurring in people over 55. Additionally, men are three to four times more likely to develop bladder cancer than women.

Understanding these risk factors can help in taking preventive measures and seeking early treatment if needed. Regular check-ups and being mindful of changes in your urinary habits can make a significant difference in catching bladder cancer early when it’s most treatable.

Bladder Cancer Treatment and Prevention

Caught early, bladder cancer is highly treatable. Depending on the stage of your cancer and your overall health, treatments can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and intravesical therapy (or administering medication directly into the bladder via catheter.) 

Like all health conditions, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent bladder cancer – or any other type of cancer – from developing, there are practices to help reduce your risk:

  • Quit Smoking: If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your bladder health.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids can help flush out potential carcinogens from your bladder.
  • Limit Exposure to Harmful Chemicals: Use protective equipment if you work with industrial chemicals.
  • Regular Check-ups: Regular medical check-ups can help catch any issues early on.

Bladder cancer might seem daunting, but with knowledge and proactive steps, you can help keep your bladder healthy. For more information on how we support patients with urological conditions, visit America’s Best Care Plus and learn more about our urology program. Let’s give your bladder the care it deserves, one healthy habit at a time!