Bladder cancer is not the most common of diseases. Few people might know what color ribbon supports a cure, for example, or even where their bladders are located. Still, bladder cancer has its own “awareness” month, and that awareness is making survival possible for hundreds of people each year.
While nearly 16,700 people in the U.S. are expected to die from bladder cancer in 2023, that figure is down by 400 from one year ago.
Breakthrough innovations in cancer treatment options, through clinical trials, make such improvements possible. This is especially the case when the cancer is caught early.
To honor Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, we looked into some recent advancements that show promise in stopping the disease in the early stages, as well as later-stage care options.
What Happens When You Develop Bladder Cancer
The bladder is a hollow organ that stores urine until it’s time to go. In some people, the cells in the bladder begin to multiply at an uncontrollable rate, due to a mutation, and develop into malignant (cancerous) tumors.
This mutation typically occurs among cells in the innermost lining of the bladder. If undetected, the tumors can invade the bladder muscle (Stage II), surrounding tissue (Stage III), and other organs and lymph nodes (Stage IV).
Common symptoms include blood in the urine, back pain, and frequent, painful urination.
Why Do Some People Get Bladder Cancer?
Nearly 82,300 people are expected to be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2023. Risk factors include smoking, age, and gender. The malignancy occurs three times more frequently in men than women, for example, and nine in 10 of those diagnosed are older than 55.
Exposure to certain industrial chemicals and radiation can contribute to the formation of tumors as well, research has shown. Specifically, women who have received radiation treatment for cervical cancer may be at elevated risk.
Finding Cures, and Confidence, in Clinical Trials
Thanks to researchers and patient volunteers, clinical trials of new cancer-fighting drugs and devices are helping reduce the number of bladder cancer cases and deaths. Rates for both are down by an estimated 2% a year since 2015.
One important advancement involves a mix of drugs that prompt the immune system to attack cancer cells. These drugs, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, essentially teach the body to instinctively fight the disease.
Finding the Right Bladder Cancer Treatment for You
If you’re living with bladder cancer, such new drug therapies could help stop it. In addition, we offer these minimally invasive treatments for the early stages of the disease:
- Transurethral resection of the bladder (TURB) – The surgeon removes small tumors from the bladder lining using a scope that is inserted through the urethra.
- Intravesical therapy – Applying medicine through a catheter, usually weekly for six weeks (with possible booster treatments).
If the patient has entered stages II through IV, we provide these options:
- 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) – Surgically removing the entire bladder and surrounding lymph nodes. The surgeon then creates an artificial bladder, sometimes from parts of the intestine.
- Chemotherapy (before surgery) – Administering a single drug or combination of drugs to shrink the tumor before surgery and prevent tumor regrowth after surgery.
- Chemotherapy and radiation – If the cancer is too advanced to treat with surgery, the oncologist might advise this combination.
Earn a Blue, Yellow, and Purple Ribbon for Bladder Cancer Awareness
Curing cancer requires research, which is why clinical trials are required for collecting crucial data about new drugs, devices, and treatments.
If you have been diagnosed with bladder cancer, you might qualify for a clinical trial. Ask your physician, or check out the clinical trials in which our urologists are participating, here.
Further, the website ClinicalTrials.Gov provides global information on trials that are recruiting patients.
To learn more about bladder cancer and post-operative care options we provide for patients, visit our dedicated microsite here.