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We do not know exactly what causes most bladder cancers, but we do know that certain risk factors are linked to the disease. A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Many people with risk factors never get bladder cancer, while others with this disease may have few or no known risk factors.

Still, it is good to know about some of the risk factors for bladder cancer because there may be things you can do that might lower your risk of getting it. If you are at higher risk because of certain factors, there are tests that might help find it early, when treatment is most likely to be helpful.

Risk factors for bladder cancer

The following risk factors have been linked to bladder cancer:

Smoking: Smoking is the greatest risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers get bladder cancer at least 3 times as often as people who don’t smoke.

Workplace chemical exposure: Workers in industries with higher risks of bladder cancer include the makers of rubber, leather, textiles, dyes, and paint products, as well as printing companies. Other workers with a higher risk of bladder cancer include painters, hairdressers, machinists, printers, and truck drivers. Smoking can increase the risk even more among these workers.

Race: Whites are about twice as likely to get bladder cancer as are African Americans. Hispanics, Asian Americans, and American Indians have slightly lower rates of bladder cancer.

Age: The risk of bladder cancer goes up with age.

Gender: Bladder cancer is much more common in men than in women.

Chronic (on-going) bladder irritation and infections: Urinary infections, kidney stones, bladder stones, and bladder catheters left in for a long time have been linked with bladder cancer, but it is not clear if they actually cause bladder cancer.

Personal history of bladder (or other urothelial) cancer: People who have had a cancer in the lining of any part of the urinary tract have a higher chance of getting another tumor.

Bladder birth defects: Before birth, there is a connection between the belly button and the bladder. Very rarely this connection doesn’t go away as it should, and cancer can start there. Another rare birth defect called exstrophy can also lead to bladder cancer.

Genes and family history: People whose family members have had bladder cancer have a higher risk. People who inherit certain gene syndromes also have a higher risk of bladder cancer.

Prior cancer treatment: Some chemo drugs or radiation used to treat other cancers can increase the risk of bladder cancer.

Certain medicines and herbal supplements: Use of the diabetes medicine pioglitazone (Actos) for more than a year has been linked with bladder cancer. Supplements that contain aristolochic acid have also been linked with bladder cancer.

Arsenic: Arsenic in drinking water has been linked to a higher risk of bladder cancer in some parts of the world.

Not drinking enough liquids: People who drink lots of liquids each day have a lower rate of bladder cancer.

Last Medical Review: 06/23/2014
Last Revised: 01/21/2016