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Risks of Smoking Extend to the Bladder

We all know that smoking is bad for you. But if you're a woman, listen up. A study from the University of Southern California says women's bladders may be more susceptible to cancer-causing agents in tobacco. Researchers found that when women and men smoke at comparably high levels, women's bladder cancer risk is 30 to 50 percent higher.

"Smoke contributes to bladder cancer because carcinogens in cigarette smoke are absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream," said Viviana Simon, Ph.D., director of scientific programs for the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit research, education, and advocacy organization. "The carcinogens are then filtered by the kidneys, concentrated in the urine, and can then damage the cells that line the bladder.

The incidence of bladder cancer has been steadily increasing, according to statistics from the American Urological Association. Cigarettes top the list of risk factors. Risk increases with the duration of smoking, and decreases when smokers quit. Increasing age is also a risk factor.

The influence of tobacco on bladder cancer susceptibility is not the only way that the disease differs between women and men. For example, bladder cancer is more common in men, but women are more likely to die from the disease. One explanation for the difference is that women are more likely than men to suffer from rarer types of bladder cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Another explanation for the higher mortality rate in women is because a greater number of women experience a delay in diagnosis. Women with bladder cancer are diagnosed six to nine months later than men with the disease, and women's cancers are detected at a more advanced stage.

"The warning signs of bladder cancer typically include blood in the urine or a change in urinary habits such as urinary frequency, urgency or dysuria," which is pain while urinating," according Waleed Hassen, M.D., director of urological oncology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, N.Y. "These symptoms can be sometimes confused with urinary tract infections, especially in women, which can sometimes delay diagnosis."

If the diagnosis is delayed and the disease progresses, the patient usually has different symptoms. "Later warning signs of the bladder cancer include weight loss, pain and fatigue," Hassen said.

A timely diagnosis is crucial to survival. For patients with non-invasive bladder cancer, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. The rate drops below 50 percent, if the cancer spreads over the pelvic region. If it progresses to other organs, the five-year survival rate falls to just six percent.

That's why it is so important to see your doctor right away if you have any symptoms or problems related to urination. Treatment of the disease varies by case, but surgery is usually involved and yields the best outcome. Depending on the extent of the disease, chemotherapy, radiation and biological therapies, which stimulate the body's immune system, may be involved.

Because smoking is the largest known risk factor for bladder cancer, it is vital for tobacco smokers to be aware of their risk. Relatives and people who spend time with a smoker are also at risk, given the established dangers of second-hand smoke. The growing number of ways we know smoke harms health is a good reason to stop smoking or help those around you stop.

Beyond smoking, occupational exposures to chemicals found in some dyes, paints, solvents, leather dust, inks, combustion products, rubbers, and textiles can increase the risk of bladder cancer. As a result, hairdressers, machinists, painters, printers, truck drivers, and those who work with the drugs used in chemotherapy need to be aware of their risk and the cancer's symptoms.

The Society for Women's Health Research is the only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its Board of Directors.

Created: 7/24/2006  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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