Nearly 82,300 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2023. Following are some of the symptoms these patients can expect: Blood in the urine, back pain, and frequent, painful urination. These signs are among the most common.
But here’s something else a bladder cancer patient can expect if they get their symptoms checked early: A much better chance of survival.
Breakthrough innovations in cancer diagnosis and treatment options, as well as ongoing research for cures, provide hope that we will reduce the number of bladder cancer fatalities. This is especially the case when the cancer is caught early.
To honor Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, we’d like to share some of the recent advancements made in the field, thanks largely to clinical research.
What Causes Bladder Cancer?
Your bladder is a hollow organ in your lower pelvis that stores urine. If cells in the bladder mutate, they multiply at an uncontrollable rate and develop into cancerous (malignant) tumors. This typically begins in the cells in the innermost lining of the bladder.
In time, undetected tumors can invade the bladder muscle (Stage II), surrounding tissue (Stage III), and other organs and the lymph nodes (Stage IV, or metastatic disease).
Researchers have found that key contributors of bladder cancer include smoking, age, and gender. Men are three times more likely than women to develop the disease, and 90% of those diagnosed are older than 55.
Research also has shown that exposure to certain chemicals, typically at industrial job sites, can contribute to the formation of tumors. A long-term bladder infection also might put you at risk.
Clinical Trials Are Saving Bladders, and Lives
Fortunately, the rate of bladder cancer cases and deaths are declining by an estimated 2% a year since 2015. Survival rates should continue to climb, thanks to clinical trials – research studies that test new treatments, including drug therapies.
One significant advancement in treatment involves a group of drugs that guide your immune system to kill the cancer cells. These drugs, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, essentially teach your body to fight the disease itself.
Such discoveries contribute to a dramatic increase in research, and a need for more trial volunteers.
You Can Be Treated at Any Stage
If you’ve been diagnosed with bladder cancer, the above class of drugs could help stop it. Among other minimally invasive treatments for patients in the earliest stages of the disease:
- Transurethral resection of the bladder (TURB) – A procedure that removes the small tumors from your bladder lining using a surgical instrument inserted through the urethra.
- Alternate drug treatments – Applying other immunotherapies or chemotherapy blends directly into your bladder, using a catheter.
For patients in stages II and III, we offer these treatments:
- Partial bladder removal – This surgery cuts out the parts of the bladder invaded by tumors. Radiation and chemotherapy may follow.
- Total bladder removal (radical cystectomy) – Here, the entire bladder and surrounding lymph nodes are removed. In men, this procedure often includes the prostate and seminal vesicles. In women, the urethra and uterus are removed. Following the removal, the surgeon creates an artificial bladder, sometimes from parts of the intestine.
- Chemotherapy – Patients receive a single drug or combination of drugs designed to shrink the tumor before surgery, and to prevent the tumor from growing back.
- Chemotherapy & radiation – This treatment includes a combination of chemotherapy and radiation for patients who choose not to have surgery or who cannot have surgery.
- Immunotherapy – Here, a medication causes the patient’s own immune system to attack and kill the tumor cells. It is given through a Foley catheter directly into the bladder.
If a patient has entered stage IV:
- Chemotherapy – If the cancer is too advanced to treat with surgery, the doctor will consider chemotherapy treatments. There are several drug options available based on the patient’s condition.
You Can Be Part of The Cure: A Call for Clinical Volunteers
If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, you might qualify for a clinical trial. Ask your MIU urologist, or check out MIU’s schedule of pending trials and open enrollment, here.
The website ClinicalTrials.Gov provides national information on trials that are underway and studies that are recruiting patients.
To learn more about bladder cancer and post-operative care options we provide for patients, click here.