Bladder Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. You can change some risk factors, like smoking or weight ; others, like your age or family history, you can’t.

But having a risk factor, or even many, 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’s important to know about the risk factors for bladder cancer because there may be things you can do that might lower your risk of getting it. If you're at higher risk because of certain factors, you might be helped by tests that could find it early, when treatment is most likely to be effective.

Many risk factors make a person more likely to develop bladder cancer.

Risk factors you can change

Smoking

Smoking is the most important risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as non-smokers. Smoking causes about half of all bladder cancers in both men and women.

If you or someone you know smokes and would like help quitting, see our Guide to Quitting Smoking, or call us at 1-800-227-2345 for more information.

Workplace exposures

Certain industrial chemicals have been linked with bladder cancer. Chemicals called aromatic amines, such as benzidine and beta-naphthylamine, which are sometimes used in the dye industry, can cause bladder cancer.

Workers in other industries that use certain organic chemicals also may have a higher risk of bladder cancer. Industries carrying higher risks include makers of rubber, leather, textiles, and paint products as well as printing companies. Other workers with an increased risk of developing bladder cancer include painters, machinists, printers, hairdressers (probably because of heavy exposure to hair dyes), and truck drivers (likely because of exposure to diesel fumes).

Cigarette smoking and workplace exposures can act together to cause bladder cancer. So, smokers who also work with cancer-causing chemicals have an especially high risk of bladder cancer.

Certain medicines or herbal supplements

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), use of the diabetes medicine pioglitazone (Actos®) is linked with an increased risk of bladder cancer. The risk seems to higher when higher doses are used.

Dietary supplements containing aristolochic acid (mainly in herbs from the Aristolochia family) have been linked with an increased risk of urothelial cancers, including bladder cancer.

Arsenic in drinking water

Arsenic in drinking water has been linked with a higher risk of bladder cancer in some parts of the world. The chance of being exposed to arsenic depends on where you live and whether you get your water from a well or from a public water system that meets the standards for low arsenic content. For most Americans, drinking water isn't a major source of arsenic.

Not drinking enough fluids

People who drink a lot of fluids, especially water, each day tend to have lower rates of bladder cancer. This might be because they empty their bladders more often, which could keep chemicals from lingering in their bladder.

Risk factors you cannot change

Race and ethnicity

Whites are about twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as African Americans and Hispanics. Asian Americans and American Indians have slightly lower rates of bladder cancer. The reasons for these differences are not well understood.

Age

The risk of bladder cancer increases with age. About 9 out of 10 people with bladder cancer are older than 55.

Gender

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

Chronic bladder irritation and infections

Urinary infections, kidney and bladder stones, bladder catheters left in place a long time, and other causes of chronic (ongoing) bladder irritation have been linked to bladder cancer (especially squamous cell carcinoma of the bladder). But it’s not clear if they actually cause bladder cancer.

Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharziasis), an infection with a parasitic worm that can get into the bladder, is also a risk factor for bladder cancer. In countries where this parasite is common (mainly in Africa and the Middle East), squamous cell cancers of the bladder are much more common. This is an extremely rare cause of bladder cancer in the United States.

Personal history of bladder or other urothelial cancer

Urothelial carcinomas can sometimes form in different areas in the bladder, as well as in the lining of the kidney, the ureters, and urethra. Having cancer in the lining of any part of the urinary tract puts you at higher risk of having another cancer, either in the same spot as before, or in another part of the urinary tract. This is true even when the first tumor is removed completely. For this reason, people who have had bladder cancer need careful follow-up to look for new cancers.

Bladder birth defects

Before birth, there's a connection between the belly button and the bladder. This is called the urachus. If part of this connection remains after birth, it could become cancer. Cancers that start in the urachus are usually adenocarcinomas, which are made up of cancerous gland cells. About one-third of the adenocarcinomas of the bladder start here. But this is still rare, accounting for less than half of 1% of all bladder cancers.

Another rare birth defect called exstrophy greatly increases a person’s risk of bladder cancer. In bladder exstrophy, both the bladder and the abdominal wall in front of the bladder don’t close completely during fetal development and are fused together. This leaves the inner lining of the bladder exposed outside the body. Surgery soon after birth can close the bladder and abdominal wall (and repair other related defects), but people who have this still have a higher risk for urinary infections and bladder cancer.

Genetics and family history

People who have family members with bladder cancer have a higher risk of getting it themselves. Sometimes this may be because the family members are exposed to the same cancer-causing chemicals (like those in tobacco smoke). They may also share changes in some genes (like GST and NAT) that make it hard for their bodies to break down certain toxins, which can make them more likely to get bladder cancer.

A small number of people inherit a gene syndrome that increases their risk for bladder cancer. For example:

  • A mutation of the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene can cause cancer of the eye in infants, and also increases the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Cowden disease, caused by mutations in the PTEN gene, is linked mainly to cancers of the breast and thyroid. People with this disease also have a higher risk of bladder cancer.
  • Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC) is linked mainly to colon and endometrial cancer. People with this syndrome might also have an increased risk of bladder cancer (as well as other cancers of the urinary tract).

For information on testing for inherited gene changes that increase cancer risk, see Understanding Genetic Testing for Cancer.

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy

Taking the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®) for a long time can irritate the bladder and increase the risk of bladder cancer. People taking this drug are often told to drink plenty of fluids to help protect the bladder from irritation.

People who are treated with radiation to the pelvis are more likely to develop bladder cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Bladder Cancer: Risk Factors. 10/2017. Accessed at www.cancer.net/cancer-types/bladder-cancer/risk-factors on December 6, 2018.

Cumberbatch MGK, Jubber I, Black PC, et al. Epidemiology of Bladder Cancer: A Systematic Review and Contemporary Update of Risk Factors in 2018. Eur Urol. 2018;74(6):784-795.

Letašiová S, Medveďová A, Šovčíková A, et al. Bladder cancer, a review of the environmental risk factors. Environ Health. 2012;11 Suppl 1:S11.

National Cancer Institute. Bladder Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. October 19, 2018. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/bladder/patient/bladder-treatment-pdq on December 6, 2018.

Poon SL, Huang MN, Choo Y, et al. Mutation signatures implicate aristolochic acid in bladder cancer development. Genome Med. 2015;7(1):38.

US Food & Drug Admin. FDA Drug Safety Communication: Updated FDA review concludes that use of type 2 diabetes medicine pioglitazone may be linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer. Accessed at www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm519616.htm on December 6, 2018.

Yan H, Xie H, Ying Y, et al. Pioglitazone use in patients with diabetes and risk of bladder cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cancer Manag Res. 2018;10:1627-1638.

Last Medical Review: January 30, 2019 Last Revised: January 30, 2019

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