Bladder Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for bladder cancer?

We do not yet know exactly what causes bladder cancer, but we do know that certain risk factors are linked to the disease. A risk factor is anything that affects a person’s 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 risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease.

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. Certain chemicals in tobacco smoke are absorbed from the lungs into the blood. From the blood, they are filtered by the kidneys and collect in the urine. These chemicals in the urine damage the cells that line the inside of the bladder and increase the risk of cancer.

Work exposure: Some chemicals have been linked to bladder cancer. Industries that use certain chemicals may put workers at risk if good safety practices are not followed. Those with the highest risks 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. We do not know the reason for this.

Age: The risk of bladder cancer goes up with age. About 9 out of 10 people with bladder cancer are over the age of 55.

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

Chronic (on-going) bladder irritation and infections: Urinary infections, kidney stones, and bladder stones 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 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, very 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.

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

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

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

Last Medical Review: 12/03/2012
Last Revised: 04/17/2014