Anything that raises the chance of an individual developing a particular illness or disease is called a risk factor. A simple example would be how smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.

Some risk factors can be controlled because they are environmental. Things such as obesity (caused from lack of exercise/overeating) or exposure to hazardous chemicals, at a workplace for example, fall into the category of environmental risk factors. Other factors cannot be changed or controlled and include gender and genetics.

Understanding and managing potential risks may mean that an individual is less likely to get a particular disease.

However, just because an individual is in a certain risk group, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily develop any of the diseases associated with the risk factor in question. Similarly, if one is not exposed to a particular risk factor, it does not mean they won’t develop a disease.

There are many different risk factors associated with different cancer types. Here we will take a closer look at the most common bladder cancer risk factors.

What is Bladder Cancer?

The bladder is a hollow organ that is surrounded by muscle and a thin, protective lining. It is responsible for controlling the release of urine from the body.

Cancer of the bladder occurs when a tumor grows, either in the lining or the muscle itself. A common early symptom which could indicate the presence of a tumor is when blood is noticed when passing urine.

When the tumor develops in the thin lining of the bladder, it is called non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer. This is by far the most common type of bladder cancer and the prognosis is generally good for a successful treatment and recovery.

Typically, the more serious type of bladder cancer occurs when the tumor spreads to the muscle. This is called muscle-invasive bladder cancer and has a much greater probability of spreading to the rest of the body.

Bladder Cancer Risk Factors Which Can be Controlled

There are certain risk factors associated with bladder cancer which can be controlled to a certain degree.

These include:

Smoking

Smoking increases the risk of many medical conditions, including bladder cancer

Most people associate smoking with lung cancer. You are, however, four to seven times more likely to develop bladder cancer if you are a smoker, compared with an individual who does not smoke. In around half of the diagnosed cases, smoking is a factor for both men and women.

Workplace Exposures

Many people are exposed to a variety of different environmental hazards at their place of work. There are a range of different chemicals used in industrial processes that are associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

These include chemicals used in rubber manufacturing, the paint industry, textiles and in print companies. Hairdressers who use certain products such as hair dyes may also be vulnerable, as are truck drivers who are regularly exposed to diesel fumes.

Insufficient Fluid Consumption

Some research has also suggested that there is a link between not drinking enough water and bladder cancer.

Medicines/Supplements

Certain medicines have been shown to increase the risk of developing bladder cancer, including drugs used for treating diabetes, such as pioglitazone. Some traditional Chinese medicines which contain aristolochic acid have also been shown to raise the risk of bladder cancer.

Arsenic in Water

In some areas of the world, small amounts of arsenic can be found in water, which can result in an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer Risk Factors Which Cannot be Controlled

While there are several risk factors which can be controlled to a certain degree by lifestyle changes and behaviors, there are also some that cannot.

These include:

Gender

Men are at a much higher risk of bladder cancer than women. This may be down to a range of other factors including more men working in industries that have higher risks associated with them, such as exposure to harmful chemicals.

Age

As with many diseases, the risk of bladder cancer increases with age. The vast majority of bladder cancer diagnoses occur in patients over the age of 55.

Birth Defects

Certain birth defects increase the likelihood of developing bladder cancer. When there is a connection between the bladder and the navel at birth, this can increase the risk of the disease in later life.

A condition such as exstrophy, where the baby’s bladder and abdominal wall fuse together during the pregnancy, may also increase the risk of bladder cancer.

Both of these conditions, however, are extremely rare. 

Genetics

If a family member has developed bladder cancer, that could mean others in the familial group are more at risk. The mutation of certain genes can also increase the risk of developing bladder cancer.

Chronic Infections

Certain long term conditions that cause bladder irritation also increase the risk of bladder cancer. These include urinary problems as well as parasitic infections. The latter is more common in underdeveloped countries.

Summary

There are several different risk factors associated with bladder cancer. While being exposed to one or two of these may make a person more vulnerable, it does not mean that developing the disease is inevitable.

Changing controllable habits such as smoking, drinking more water and increased protection at work, however, can help reduce risk.