Bladder cancer: What is it and how do you treat it?

Artist Tracey Emin had an operation after a cancerous tumour was found in her bladder

Olivia Petter
Thursday 29 October 2020 11:28

On Wednesday 28 October, the celebrated British artist Tracey Emin revealed she has been privately suffering with bladder cancer since June.

In an interview with The Times, the 57-year-old explained that she underwent surgery in the summer in a bid to treat the illness. 

"It was squamous cell cancer, which means it's really rapid, really aggressive. It's known as bad cancer," Emin said.

The artist added that during the operation, she had "half [her] body chopped out, including half [her] vagina". The surgeons also removed her uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, lymph nodes, part of her colon and urethra.

Emin says the prognosis for the disease means "to get past Christmas would be a good one.”

Bladder cancer is when a growth of abnormal tissue, also known as a tumour, develops in the lining of the bladder.

Here’s everything you need to know about bladder cancer.

What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer occurs when a tumour develops in the bladder lining and, in some instances, spreads into the bladder muscle.

There are different types, depending on how far the cancer has spread.

The most common type of bladder cancer is that which occurs when the cancerous cells are contained inside the lining of the bladder, which doctors describe as non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer. 

Most people don't die as a result of this type of bladder cancer, the NHS states.

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it is known as advanced or metastatic bladder cancer.

About five per cent of bladder cancers are squamous cell cancers, says Cancer Research UK.

Prognisis depends on the severity of the cancer, but the general five-year survival rate is 77 per cent. The overall 10-year survival rate is 70 per cent and the overall 15-year survival rate is 65 per cent, states the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in urine, says the NHS.

The medical term for this is haematuria. Usually, there is no pain associated with this symptom.

Other less common symptoms include sudden urges to urinate, needing to urinate more frequently, and experiencing a burning sensation while urinating. Although these symptoms can also all be related to other more minor causes.

There are other symptoms for more advanced stages of bladder cancer such as pelvic pain, bone pain, and swelling of the legs.

The NHS advises anyone seeing blood in their urine to visit their GP. Other causes in addition to bladder cancer could be cystitis, kidney stones, or a kidney infection.

What causes bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is caused by changes to the cells of the bladder. However, the cause of these changes isn’t always known.

“If you smoke for many years, these chemicals pass into your bloodstream and are filtered by the kidneys into your urine,” it explains on its website

“The bladder is repeatedly exposed to these harmful chemicals, as it acts as a store for urine. This can cause changes to the cells of the bladder lining, which may lead to bladder cancer.”

Another cause is exposure to industrial chemicals, such as aniline dyes and benzidine. 

Manufacturing jobs such as those involving plastics, paint, textiles and leather tanning, are linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Other risk factors include having diabetes, early menopause, and repeated urinary tract infections.

You can read more about bladder cancer on the NHS website here.

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