In 2011, more than 52,000 men and 17,000 women in the United States were diagnosed with bladder cancer. This chronic disease accounts for approximately 10,000 deaths each year.
Cigarette smoking is considered to be the main cause of bladder cancer, but experts believe that the use of the diabetes drug Actos may also trigger this disease. The number of deaths caused by this condition may look grim, but treatment options are available that can greatly improve outcomes.
When detected in its early stages, bladder cancer is easily treatable. In fact, people whose bladder cancer is caught in the first stage have a 98 percent survival rate. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and biological therapy. The best treatment route depends on a number of factors, such as the location of the tumor, the stage and extent of the cancer, and the type of cancer cell. Your age and overall health are also important considerations.
If the cancer is in stage 0 or I, your doctor will try to remove the tumor through surgery in a procedure called a segmental cystectomy. You may experience more-frequent urination, as a cystectomy reduces the size of the bladder. Bleeding and infection may occur as well.
If the tumor is detected in stage II and III, your surgeon will perform a radical cystectomy, which removes the entire bladder. Removal of the bladder's seminal vesicles will cause infertility in men. If the cancer has not spread to deeper layers of the bladder, your doctor will only remove part of the organ. After your cystectomy, your doctor will create a small reservoir for urine inside your body by using a section of intestine. He or she may also use a piece of your intestine to create a tube called a urinary conduct.
Regardless of whether the tumor is in stages 0 or III, chemotherapy and immunotherapy are often used in conjunction with surgery.
Patients with stage II and III bladder cancer are administered chemotherapy after surgery to help prevent the tumor from returning. Chemotherapy is a procedure involving two or more specific drugs that destroy cancer cells. These medications may be given intravenously or directly to your bladder through intravesical therapy.
Chemotherapy patients usually undergo radiation as well. This procedure uses high-powered radiation to shrink tumors and alter the makeup of cancerous cells, lowering their threat. It may be administered through a machine or via injection. The process requires planning and careful monitoring to ensure too many normal cells are not affected.
This newer form of therapy, also known as immunotherapy, uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer or lessen the side effects of other treatments. It recreates agents found naturally in the body, primarily in the forms of bacteria and white blood cells. This is advantageous because the body can tell the difference between a cancerous cell and a normal cell, so these antibodies know what to attack.
In spite of treatment, bladder cancer may return, so subsequent treatments may be necessary. For that reason, treating the disease is invaluable to prevent it from spreading and affecting the rest of your body. In some cases, though, treatment can cause other health problems. Surgery for bladder cancer can lead to sexual dysfunction, infertility, and menopause when women's ovaries are removed. In addition, side effects of chemotherapy include weakness or fatigue, hair loss, changes in bowel habits and mouth sores.
Want more information? If you would like specific answers to your treatment questions, please request a copy of the book "100 Questions and Answers about Bladder Cancer." You may also contact one of our Patient and Family Advocates, who can help you get the information you need. Both the book and the consultation with our friendly staff are free.