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Bladder Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Bladder cancer can affect anyone. Major risk factors include smoking, exposure to certain chemicals, and having a family history of the disease.

Learn more about the risk factors for bladder cancer.

Smoking

Tobacco use is the biggest risk factor for developing bladder cancer. This risk increases with the amount and length of time smoking. Cancer-causing chemicals inhaled from burning tobacco enter the bloodstream. The body filters them from the blood through the kidneys and transfers them to the bladder to be removed from the body. The chemical-containing urine can cause damage to the cells in the bladder. Avoiding smoking is the most effective way to lower the risk. People who have quit smoking have a lower risk of bladder cancer compared with active smokers. The risk continues to drop the longer one has stopped smoking.

Chemical Exposure

Frequent exposure to chemicals that are commonly used in certain jobs may increase bladder cancer risk. This includes chemicals called aromatic amines. They are most commonly used in the textile, dye, rubber, leather, paint, and printing industries. Chemical exposure has also been associated with bladder cancer in truck drivers, hairdressers, and machinists. In addition, areas of the world with high concentrations of arsenic in the groundwater have higher rates of bladder cancer. This includes Chile, Argentina, Taiwan, and some northeastern states of the United States.

Family History of Bladder Cancer

You may be twice as likely to develop bladder cancer if you have a close relative who has had the disease. A close relative includes a parent, sibling, or child. This possibility may be related to genetic factors that make it harder for the body to remove dangerous chemicals after exposure. In addition, an inherited disease linked to colorectal cancer called Lynch syndrome also increases the risk of bladder cancer.

Chronic Bladder Problems and Urinary Tract Infections

Long-term bladder irritation and inflammation, such as that caused by infections and bladder or kidney stones, make it more likely for someone to develop bladder cancer. People with spinal cord injuries are at risk of both chronic infections and kidney stones. A parasitic infection called schistosomiasis increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma. This infection is rare in the United States but common in the Middle East.

Age

People with bladder cancer are most likely to develop the disease after age 70.

Gender

Men are more likely than women to develop bladder cancer. Overall, the chance that men will develop this cancer during their life is about one in 27. For women, the chance is about one in 89.

Prior Chemotherapy or Radiation

Certain chemotherapy drugs increase the long-term risk of developing bladder cancer. Cyclophosphamide is one of these medications. In addition, some studies have suggested that radiation treatment to the pelvis may increase the risk of developing bladder tumors.

Diabetes Medication

Pioglitazone (Actos®) is a drug taken by people with type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar. The Food and Drug Administration has associated pioglitazone with an increased risk of bladder cancer.