Bladder cancer – what you need to know

Date: 12 May 2021

May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re urging everyone to look out for the symptoms. Here’s what everyone in Yorkshire needs to know about bladder cancer. 

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer? 

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in your urine – also known as haematuria. It may appear as streaks of blood in your urine, or the blood may turn your urine brown. It is usually painless, it isn’t always noticeable, and may come and go.  

Having blood in your urine doesn’t necessarily mean you have bladder cancer. There are other more common causes of blood in urine, such as urinary tract infections, kidney infections or kidney stones, and enlarged prostate in men. 

Less common symptoms include: 

  • A need to urinate more often
  • Sudden urges to urinate
  • A burning sensation when passing urine

Other symptoms to watch out for include: 

  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Rapid unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling of the legs

 

How many people in Yorkshire get bladder cancer? 

835 people in Yorkshire were diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2018 (the most recent year that data is available for). This makes bladder cancer the 9th most common cancer in Yorkshire. The rate of bladder cancer is higher in Yorkshire compared to the average for England. Wakefield has the 4th highest rate in the country. 

 

Who is at risk of developing bladder cancer? 

Men are more likely to get bladder cancer than women. Nearly four times as many men than women are diagnosed with bladder cancer. This could be because in the past, men were much more likely to smoke and work in the manufacturing industry. 

Age is a significant factor for bladder cancer, as it is for many other cancers. Over 7 in 10 cases are diagnosed in people aged 70 and over.  

Nearly half (48.6%) of bladder cancers could be prevented, which means they are caused by factors which could be changed (unlike sex or age).  

The biggest preventable cause of bladder cancer is smoking. It is estimated that smoking causes more than 4 in 10  bladder cancers (44.4%), or about 371 cases in Yorkshire every year.  

People who work in certain jobs are also known to be at higher risk of bladder cancer, possibly because of chemicals that have historically been more common in their workplaces. These include ‘aromatic amines’ (linked to hairdressers, rubber workers, and leather workers), and ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’ (linked to professional drivers, railroad workers, miners, and mechanics). Other occupations are also linked with bladder cancer, such as painter decorators.  

The link between bladder cancer and these types of occupations was discovered in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, regulations relating to exposure to cancer-causing chemicals have been made much more rigorous, and many of the chemicals known to cause bladder cancer have since been banned. However, these chemicals can still be linked with cancers diagnosed today, because it can take up to 30 years for cancer to develop once a person has been exposed.

 

Why is it important to catch bladder cancer early? 

437 people in Yorkshire died from bladder cancer in 2018 – that’s eight people every week.  

There is some evidence that suggests people in Yorkshire are more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer at a late stage, with 27% of bladder cancers being diagnosed late in our region, compared to 21% in England.  

Nationally, 1 in 5 bladder cancers are diagnosed via emergency presentation, for example after people go to A&E with symptoms.  

If bladder cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it can usually be treated more successfully, and the chances of survival are greater.   

If a bladder cancer is found early (at Stage 1) the survival rate is high, with 8 in 10 people surviving 5 years or more (80.9%).  

 

What happens if I go to the doctor with symptoms? 

If you have any symptoms of bladder cancer, such as blood in your urine, you should contact your GP. They may ask about your symptoms, family history, and risk factors such as smoking. They may ask for a urine sample for further tests. They may also conduct an examination of your rectum or vagina, as bladder cancers can sometimes cause lumps which can be felt there.  

If your GP suspects you have bladder cancer, you will be referred to a specialist at a hospital for further tests. These tests include a ‘cystoscopy’, where a thin tube with a camera is passed through the urethra (the tube through which you urinate). During the procedure, the specialist may take small samples (biopsies) of any tumours they find.  

They may also offer a CT scan or an MRI scan to get a more detailed picture of your bladder and the surrounding area.  

 

What is Yorkshire Cancer Research doing about bladder cancer? 

In November 2020, Yorkshire Cancer Research announced £1.5 million of funding for a major clinical trial to explore the possibility of an early detection programme for bladder cancer. The study will test the idea of screening people at high risk of developing bladder cancer, using a combination of self-testing kits and early detection clinics in the community. 

Professor Jim Catto from University of Sheffield, who is leading the study, said: “This funding will allow us to undertake the feasibility steps for a comprehensive early detection programme for bladder cancer across Yorkshire. It will assess how well we can detect bladder cancer in several different Yorkshire populations and will look to confirm if the idea has potential to save lives.” 

 

If you have any potential symptom of bladder cancer, it’s important to contact your GP as soon as possible. It might not be serious, but if it does turn out to be bladder cancer, the earlier it is caught the better the chances of successful treatment.

Bladder cancer symptoms include blood in your urine, a need to urinate more often, and a burning sensation when passing urine.

 

References 

NHS, Bladder cancer

CancerData, Cancer Incidence 2018  

CancerData, Cancer Mortality 2018 

NCRAS, Routes to diagnosis 2017 

CancerData, Stage at diagnosis 2018 

Brown et al (2018). The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015. British Journal of Cancer. 118(8). Pp 1130-1141. 

Brown T, Slack R, Rushton L; British Occupational Cancer Burden Study Group. Occupational cancer in Britain. Urinary tract cancers: bladder and kidney. Br J Cancer. 2012 Jun 19;107 Suppl 1:S76-84. 

Reulen RC, Kellen E, Buntinx F, et al. A meta-analysis on the association between bladder cancer and occupation. Scand J Urol Nephrol Suppl. 2008 Sep;(218):64-78. 

Manju L, George PS, Mathew A. Urinary bladder cancer risk among motor vehicle drivers: a meta-analysis of the evidence, 1977- 2008. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2009 Apr-Jun;10(2):287-94. 

Guha N, Steenland NK, Merletti F, et al. Bladder cancer risk in painters: a meta-analysis. Occup Environ Med 2010; 67(8):568-73. 

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