Last spring, a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The symptoms came on suddenly. One day, he couldn't urinate. His bladder stopped working. The tumor was so large that it blocked the passage of urine. He was in severe pain and needless to say, completely unprepared for what was yet to come. Fortunately, he was able to make an appointment with a urologist that very day. His bladder was drained of approximately 700 cc of bloody urine (the bladder normally holds approximately 500 cc). A Foley catheter was placed into the bladder, and he was set up for a CT scan to see what the problem was. Bladder cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer diagnosed in men in the United States and is the 9th most common cancer in women. Each year, 50,000 men and 16,000 women are diagnosed with bladder cancer. These are pretty grim statistics. It is believed that men develop bladder cancer more often than women because of androgen receptors (related to male hormones). Add these receptors to a long-term smoking habit and you have a ticking time bomb. Tobacco use is believed to be the #1 contributor to bladder cancer causing more than half of the bladder cancers in men and about a third of the cases in women. There is a direct link between smoking and the risk of developing bladder cancer. Quitting smoking significantly reduces the chance of developing bladder cancer. The symptoms of this deadly cancer develop gradually over time. My friend's cancer was growing for years without symptoms. Blood in the urine is one of the first signs of bladder cancer. However, one can have what is known as "microscopic hematuria" which simply means, blood that can only be seen with a microscope. In my friend's case, the blood was apparent the day his bladder became blocked. Prior to that day, there was no visible blood. Most people develop pain with urination, frequent urination, or the feeling of needing to urinate, but unable to. Some people have no symptoms until the cancer, or tumor, is very large. It has been suggested that approximately 30% of bladder tumors are caused by occupational exposures in the workplace. However, this article is about smoking as the cause of bladder cancer. A chemical called "2-Naphthylamine" found in cigarette smoke has been linked to an increase in a person's risk of bladder cancer development. Aside from not smoking, what else can help prevent bladder tumors? Drinking plenty of fluids each day can significantly reduce the chances of developing bladder cancer by constantly flushing the bladder of carcinogens. Drink half your body weight in fluids daily, i.e., if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water or other fluids each day. Water is best because it flushes the bladder. Coffee is a diuretic, so it's best not to drink too much of this beverage, so don't count coffee in your daily fluid intake total. Eating lots of citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables may have a protective effect as well. The chances of developing bladder cancer also depends on many other factors. How long a person has smoked is at the top of the list. However, quitting smoking can have a major impact on whether a person will develop the disease. Current smokers are three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers, and former smokers have two times the risk of developing it than non-smokers. However, duration is key in the development of bladder carcinoma, and the age a person begins smoking has an influence as well. But, it's never too late to quit and is always the best option. After quitting, long-term smokers should see a urologist for a baseline exam. He/she can look inside your bladder with a cystocope to make sure there are no small growths developing. These can be easily snipped away in a painless procedure. The procedure is a bit uncomfortable but worth the discomfort to make sure your bladder is healthy. Periodic follow up is good insurance in cancer prevention. Smoking is quickly becoming a thing of the past as people are beginning to realize it's not worth the gamble. Smoking has no health benefits. In fact, it is one of the most unhealthy things a person can do. Along with bladder cancer, smoking has been linked to emphysema, pancreatic cancer, throat cancer, lung cancer, heart disease, oral cancer, tooth decay, and damage to the eyes long term. It is believed to be a major contributor to age-related macular degeneration, a form of blindness found mostly in the elderly. People who smoke get sick more often, and they miss more time from work. Smoking is a burden for insurance companies and taxpayers. It's time to help smokers kick the habit. Help save a life. Encourage a smoker to quit. If you're a smoker, there is help available. You don't have to do it alone. Contact the American Cancer Society or the American Lung Association to find smoking withdrawal programs in your city. If not for yourself, do it for those who love you.
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