Most people are familiar with the primary duty of the bladder. Your bladder’s main job is to hold the urine that your kidneys produce until you are ready to go to the bathroom to release it. Some people claim to have tiny ones to justify frequent bathroom trips, but that’s usually not a sign of something serious or more concerning – such as bladder cancer.
Bladder cancer can develop for some people when the cell growth within your bladder grows out of control. Once a tumor grows from that cell growth, it can spread to other areas of your body, like the lymph nodes or your liver.
If you suspect that you may have bladder cancer or could be at risk, keep in mind that the most common symptom of the disease is blood in urine, not just frequent bathroom trips. The disease itself is also incredibly rare, making up only about 5% of new cancer cases. Your risks of getting bladder cancer, however, may go up if you have a past history of smoking, a history of bladder infections, or are taking certain medications for diabetes.
Seek out a medical professional if you suspect that you could be at risk, or just for a precautionary screening of your bladder. First, your doctor would likely ask about your family history, as the cause for bladder cancer is mostly unknown and genetics is the likely cause in most cases. Has someone in your family suffered from bladder cancer or cancer of the urinary tract? That could be a red flag that doctors look for.
Your doctor will also order several tests, ranging from a DRE (digital rectal exam) to a urinalysis, a test to analyze your urine for any substances, blood, or other signs of trouble. These exams are all considered non-invasive, which are ideal routes your doctor will take before deciding to continue with more invasive exams. Imaging tests like MRIs or CT scans can also be ordered so that your doctor can get a clearer picture of your bladder’s health.
Depending on the results of imaging and other testing, your doctor will provide a diagnosis and more information on whether the disease has progressed into a specific stage or not. Bladder cancer is usually classified into different stages, known as TNM: T for the tumor stage, N for the lymph nodes stage, and M for metastasized, when the disease has spread to other organs.
It will also be classified by numbers how much the disease has progressed, as is traditionally done with any other cancer diagnosis. Stage 1 indicates that the bladder cancer is still within the cell wall. Stage 2 indicates bladder cancer that has now grown through the tissue and into your muscle. Stage 3 indicates the invasion of your nearby fat cells and may have spread to nearby organs like the vagina, prostate, or uterus. Stage 4 indicates that the cancer has spread to multiple organs and may or may not have already infiltrated the lymph nodes.
Depending on your prognosis, your doctor will decide the best course of treatment. Your bladder cancer might be treatable with surgery or a cystectomy, which is when they remove a part or your entire bladder. If the disease has progressed further, radiation or chemotherapy will be recommended.
If you suspect you might have bladder cancer or notice blood in your urine, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible. Call Urology Specialists of Milford at (508) 473-6333 or request an appointment online.