Chances are, if you know someone with bladder cancer, they're probably a bit older: The American Cancer Society states that the average age of people when they are diagnosed is 73, and overall, the chance that men will develop this cancer during their lifetime is higher, about 1 in 28, while for women, it's around 1 in 91.
According to Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician and the host of the TED Health Podcast, bladder cancer is a malignancy that originates from the cells lining the bladder, but each person's chances of getting bladder cancer can be affected by certain risk factors.
The good news is that bladder cancer is rare in patients under 40, and mucinous adenocarcinoma (a particularly rare form) is only observed in less than two percent of all bladder cancer cases. Even more good news: Bladder cancer is highly treatable—especially if detected early on.
Keep reading for the signs to watch out for, plus the treatment options available for those who are diagnosed.
The #1 Early Sign of Bladder Cancer
"Symptoms of bladder cancer can vary, but the most common initial symptom is hematuria or blood in the urine," Dr. Ungerleider says. This could appear anywhere from a bright red color to a dark cola if noticeable by the human eye, but in some cases, it may only be detectable under a microscope. If you have experienced similar symptoms, she stresses the importance of seeking medical evaluation immediately. While there are other signs associated with bladder cancer, this is the one people tend to miss the most.
Other Commonly Missed Signs of Early Bladder Cancer
In addition to color changes in your urine, Ungerleider points out that early signs of bladder cancer could be painful or frequent urination or feeling like you need to go, even when you're bladder isn't full. Although this could also be linked to an infection (similar symptoms arise when a UTI is present), you should speak to a doctor if it's a reoccurring problem without an infection present.
The ACS also says to be mindful of other symptoms such as lower back pain on one side, the loss of appetite and weight loss, feeling tired or weak or swelling in the feet, which could be indicators that the bladder cancer has grown or has spread to other parts of the body.
Is Bladder Cancer Heredity?
Possibly, but just because no one in your family has gotten it doesn't mean you're in the clear.
"While family history and genetics can play a role, most people with bladder cancer don't have a family history of the disease," shares Dr. Ungerleider. It's more common in men than women, and it's also a disease seen in more white individuals than other racial groups. "Individuals with a family history, especially immediate relatives with the condition, might have a higher risk," she says. "Some hereditary syndromes linked to other cancers can increase the risk of bladder cancer."
Bladder Cancer Treatments
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, the positive news is that it can be curable, especially when treated early. "High-grade tumors, or those that penetrate deeper into the bladder wall or spread to other body areas, may be more challenging to treat and pose a more significant risk," says Dr. Ungerleider.
As for the types of treatment options for bladder cancer, these greatly depend on the stage, grade and type of the tumor, plus the patient's overall health. "Common treatments include surgery (like transurethral resection or cystectomy), intravesical therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy," she says. You'll also need to schedule regular follow-ups with your doctor and check-ups after treatment since bladder cancer tends to recur.