As you can see, bladder cancer is a very common cancer. Of over 200 known cancers it now ranks as the fifth most common in the western world. It is a disease that affects all ages, male and female, from children to young adults, middle to old age, although we know that your chances of getting it do increase as you get older.
Smoking is the by far the largest preventable cause of bladder cancer. Other causes of bladder cancer include exposure to certain industrial chemicals and dyes, together with environmental conditions like diesel fumes. It is thought that there could also be an hereditary link to bladder cancer.
Unfortunately, in 50% of cases we still don’t know the cause. This is one of the reasons we need to fund more research. If we knew all the causes we could do more to prevent people getting bladder cancer in the first place.
Bladder cancer is separated into two types – slow growing, non-invasive cancers and fast growing invasive cancers. These are commonly called non invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) and invasive bladder cancer (MIBC).
Non invasive bladder cancer is often called ‘early stage bladder cancer’. This is when the cancer is limited to the bladder surface and hasn’t spread elsewhere. Invasive bladder cancer is when the cancer has spread deeper into the bladder itself, or even through the wall of the bladder into adjoining organs.
Currently just 0.6% of cancer research spend goes to bladder cancer. The result of such low research funding is that the treatments for bladder cancer are almost the same as they were over 35 years ago. And, quite simply, the current treatments are not very good at preventing recurrence or stopping the cancer spreading and becoming fatal. This is why it is still the most expensive cancer for the NHS to treat and it has the highest recurrence rate of any cancer.
The type of treatment will depend on how aggressive the cancer is and how far it has spread at diagnosis. When the cancer is diagnosed early, the treatment will start with the surgical removal of the tumour (called a TURBT). To do this, the surgeon inserts a telescopic tool into the bladder under general anesthetic.
If the bladder cancer is found to be “non invasive” the patient will have regular checks by having a camera inserted into the bladder (called a cystoscopy) to see if the cancer has returned. Many of these patients will need drugs instilled in their bladders on a regular basis to try and prevent the cancer coming back. These drugs are usually Mitomycin or BCG.
As bladder cancer has the highest recurrence rate of any cancer, these patients often require repeated treatments and life long surveillance which leads to the constant fear that the cancer will return. Which it often does.
If at any stage the cancer is found to be “invasive” then the patient must have urgent treatment with chemotherapy followed by having their bladder removed or radiotherapy. As you can imagine, this is a life changing situation.
Number of people diagnosed UK: Cancer Research UK
Number of people diagnosed worldwide: WHO
UK and Western World Stats: WHO/GLOBOCAN
NHS & Research Spend: NCRI
Prognosis: Cancer Research UK/Journal of Clinical Urology
Bladder cancer/Military deaths: Cancer Research UK/MOD
Smoking as largest cause: Cancer Research UK
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