What is bladder cancer and its causes?

What is bladder cancer and its causes?


Bladder cancer is a common malignancy of the urinary system. We explain how to identify it and the appropriate treatment depending on the stage of the tumor.

The bladder is located in the lower abdomen, is a hollow, balloon-shaped organ that can stretch to store urine until the brain gives the order to urinate and empties. When cancer cells develop in the tissues that make up the bladder, bladder cancer occurs, the most common malignancy of the urinary tract. The most common type is the epithelial, transitional, or urothelial cell tumor, which lines the bladder’s interior.

This disease is four times common in men over 60 years of age and has a higher incidence in urban areas. It is estimated that the risk of suffering from this tumor is around 4% of the male population, with more than 150,000 new cases being diagnosed annually in Europe.

It is also noteworthy that a third of tumors may metastasize to other organs at the time of diagnosis. The therapeutic options and the prognosis will depend fundamentally on the invasion that cancer has produced to deeper layers of the bladder wall, currently establishing an invasive type of tumor and a non-invasive one.

In the presence of hematuria (bloody urine), we should consult a doctor as it can be the initial and sometimes the only expression of a bladder tumor.

Causes of bladder cancer

The cause of this type of cancer has not been proven. However, several risk factors have been related to its appearance:

  • Cigarette smoking is considered the most critical risk factor and, indeed, this type of cancer is more common in males, and so has increased its incidence in women smokers. The carcinogenic substances in tobacco are filtered by the kidneys and concentrated in the urine, where they come into contact with the bladder. Continued contact of bladder tissues with carcinogen-contaminated urine is what predisposes to tumor development. Quitting smoking means reducing the risk by up to 50% in the first four years of smoking cessation.
  • Exposure in the workplace to certain industrial toxins (rubber, leather, paint, oil, dyes) can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption.
  • The abuse of painkillers.
  • Excessive tea, coffee, and artificial sweeteners (although there is currently no scientific evidence to show that these products cause this type of cancer).
  • Suffering from chronic cystitis (as in the case of people who carry catheters for a long time).
  • Having schistosomiasis, an infection caused by parasites that is very rare in Europe and can lead to bladder cancer development. It is somewhat more common in African and Middle Eastern countries.
  • Some drugs, such as pioglitazone, a cure for controlling diabetes, have been linked to the development of bladder tumors in patients who have been treated with this drug for more than a year. Others, such as cyclophosphamide, used in chemotherapy of some tumors, are also associated with this type of cancer. Also, some herbal products that contain aristolochic acid pose an increased risk for this tumor.
  • Exposure of the bladder to radiation therapy, for example, to treat gynecological or other tumors increases the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Some genetic disorders that cause malignant tumors, such as Lynch syndrome or Cowden syndrome, can increase bladder cancer incidence in these patients.
  • Sometimes it has been linked to recurrent urinary tract infections that, by irritating the tissues that make up the bladder, could favor the neoplasm development.


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