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What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer usually starts in the transitional epithelium, the cells that line the bladder.

Around half of all cases are diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is highly treatable. Without treatment, however, it can be life-threatening.

The risk of bladder cancer increases with age, and around 90 percent of people who receive a diagnosis are aged over 55 years. The average age at diagnosis is 73 years.

There are different types of bladder cancer, but most cases are urothelial, or transitional cell carcinoma (TCC).

Symptoms

In the early stages, most symptoms are related to urination.

Blood in the urine: The most common symptoms is hematuria, or blood in the urine. This may be highly visible, altering the color of the urine completely, or it may only be detectable only by microscope.

Urination habits: These can also be affected. The person may need to urinate more frequently than usual. There may be a "stop and start" flow, or there may be pain or a burning sensation during urination, known as dysuria.

In the later stages, there may be back pain, weight loss, swelling in the feet, bone pain, and an inability to urinate.

Symptoms of bladder cancer can resemble those of a less severe problem such as a bladder infection. It is important to seek medical advice if symptoms persist, because effective treatment is more likely with an early diagnosis.

Causes

The cause of bladder cancer remains unknown, but genetic mutations may play a role. These may be inherited or they may develop during a person's lifetime.

The use of tobacco and exposure to chemicals may bring about changes that lead to blader cancer, but these appear to affect people in different ways.

Inherited genetic factors in themselves are not thought to be a major cause of bladder cancer, but they may make a person more likely to react to the effects of tobacco and certain industrial chemicals.

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