What Are The Causes Of Bladder Cancer?

causes of bladder cancer

You know what bladder cancer is, don’t you? One of the common cancers in the US, the Urology Care Foundation estimates 79,000 Americans to be diagnosed with it in 2017. Mostly affecting older men, the estimates suggest about 16,000 will die from the disease this year.1

It is a staggering estimate. And very disconcerting, too. That should not, however, prevent us from taking the bull by the horns. The first step is, of course, to know the causes and risk factors. So, here are the main causes of bladder cancer.


Age, Gender, And Race As Risk Factors

Can age, gender, and race dictate your susceptibility to bladder cancer? Apparently, yes. If you are white, old and male, you are twice as likely to get bladder cancer than an African American man or a Hispanic man. If you are a young, black woman, your chance of getting bladder cancer reduces drastically. An estimate suggests white men face a lifetime risk of 3 percent; white women and black men face a risk of about 1 percent, and black women, about 0.5 percent.2 Nine out of 10 cases are older than 55 and men are twice as likely to have bladder cancer than women.3

Smoking Is A Killer, Literally

If you are a cigarette smoker, you are really asking for it. Smoking is considered the number one cause of bladder cancer. Among bladder cancer in men, smoking accounts for half of the cases while among women, one-third of the cases are related to smoking. If you are a moderate to heavy smoker, you have anywhere from two to five-fold risk of bladder cancer, compared to non-smokers. This is especially pertinent when you consider quitting the habit can bring the bladder cancer risk down measurably within two to four years.4


Exposure To Various Chemicals

Bladder cancer can be an occupational hazard especially if you work in an industry that uses chemicals, like rubber industry or beauty parlors.

Arylamines: Constantly inhaling aromatic amines or arylamines, the chemicals found in hair dyes, paints, fungicides, motor vehicle exhaust, etc, can increase your chances of bladder cancer. Hair colors are another risk.5


Polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): These are another kind of chemicals found to increase the chances of bladder cancer. You get exposed to them if you work in the industries that deal with carbon or crude oil and those that deal with combustion, like smelting.6

Arsenic: Arsenic in air or water is another major risk factor. Arsenic is a chemical; an elevated level of arsenic in the body can result in arsenic poisoning. Arsenic contamination of water is a major risk for bladder cancer in developing countries, though it is unheard of in the US.7


Personal Or Family History Of Cancer

Have you ever had a history of bladder cancer? Well, a relapse cannot be ruled out. If you have had a close family member with bladder cancer, that too can add to your chances of getting bladder cancer.8 Personal history of any other cancer or its treatment is another cause. Cancer treatment drugs like cyclophosphamide, radiation therapy to the abdomen or/and pelvis, too can put you at a higher risk for bladder cancer.

Bladder Diseases And Medication

If you are already suffering from any bladder diseases or taking certain medications, your chances of getting bladder cancer increases. For example, any chronic bladder problem, like a parasitic infection, bladder stones or an infection like gonorrhea can put you in the high-risk category.9


Schistosomiasis: Schistosomiasis is an infection caused by parasitic worms. People with schistosomiasis are found to have a higher chance of developing bladder cancer. While no research has conclusively proven a single cause, experts believe N-nitroso compounds found at high levels in the urine of schistosomiasis patients to be the culprit. During the entire course of the infection, various changes happen in the body, most of which are found to increase one’s chance of getting bladder cancer.10

Lynch Syndrome: Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), is a type of inherited cancer syndrome associated with a genetic predisposition to different cancer types. This makes people with Lynch syndrome more susceptible to certain types of cancer, one of which is bladder cancer.11 Patients with Lynch syndrome with MSH2 mutation are at an increased risk of bladder cancer.12


Pioglitazone (Actos) Use: Pioglitazone is a drug given to diabetics to bring the blood sugar levels down. This medicine could cause not just heart failure but bladder cancer as well. In a study conducted on 6,89,616 patients taking the drug, 622 were found to have bladder cancer.13

While we can’t do much about certain risk factors like age, gender, and race, some others, like certain habits, can definitely be handled. As they say, prevention is always better than cure.