May is Bladder Cancer Awareness MonthBy: Mark Delworth
The bladder may not be among the most glorified of our major organs, but it definitely hauls the water for us – about seven times a day.
That’s the average number of times we urinate every 24 hours, marking the bladder’s capacity to hold liquids at about 20 ounces, or the size of a Starbucks venti coffee. So, if you notice it’s hauling less water with each bathroom visit, it could be time to see a doctor.
In fact, you should try to pay special attention to the job your bladder is doing all month long. May is Bladder Cancer Awareness month, highlighting the fourth most-common cancer in men. Each year, about 62,380 cases of bladder cancer are reported in men, and 18,810 in women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Fortunately, the survival rate is good – 77% in the first five years – but it has to be detected. Here are four ways you can detect a bladder issue, but first, a bladder introduction.
Works Like a Smart Balloon
You can say the bladder operates a little like the bagpipes – a lesser-glorified but equally complex instrument.
It’s a hollow organ, located in the pelvis, that stores urine delivered from the kidneys above. It does this like a programmed balloon, retaining urine within the lines of stretchable muscle that expand until it reaches capacity.
When we urinate, the bladder muscles squeeze and cause its valves to open so the urine can escape through the urethra. That’s when we should feel welcomed relief – unless there is pain or trouble going in the first place.
What to Look For: 4 Signs
Those who smoke are at higher risk of getting bladder cancer; however, anyone is susceptible to it.
Detecting bladder cancer can be quite simple. The key is to not ignore the symptoms. The most common signal that you should call your physician is if you see blood in your urine, even if you have no other symptoms. Asymptomatic hematuria, as it's called, is the number one indicator of bladder cancer, although many people discount this symptom as the result of a urinary infection.
Other symptoms include:
- Trouble urinating
- Pain when urinating
- The need to pee more often than usual
If you detect any of these symptoms, even if you do not see blood, call your urologist for a screening. There may be traces of microscopic blood that can only be detected in a sample.
What to Expect
If your doctor suspects bladder cancer, it will be diagnosed by a procedure called a cystoscopy, in which a threadlike scope is inserted through the urethra to view the bladder.
Often, the physician can biopsy and remove the growth during a cystoscopy. If not, medicine can be administered through a catheter, a procedure called intravesical therapy. If the cancer is in later stages, surgery may be required to remove part or all of the bladder, as well as potentially the prostate and lymph nodes.
The bladder may not be the most lionized organ, but it is as important to a healthy-functioning body as the others. This month, pay attention to how it’s working for you.
You can learn more about bladder cancer here.