Causes and risk factors of bladder cancer

Each year, over 10,300 people in the UK are diagnosed with bladder cancer. Around 76 out of 100 (76%) of these people are diagnosed with non-invasive bladder cancer. Around 24 in 100 (24%) will have invasive or advanced cancer.

There are certain things that can affect the chances of developing bladder cancer. These are called risk factors. But having a risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean a person will get bladder cancer. And people without risk factors can also develop bladder cancer.

Age

Bladder cancer is more common in people over 60. A few people under the age of 40 get bladder cancer.

Smoking

Smoking may cause about 4 in 10 (40%) of bladder cancers. Chemicals that can cause bladder cancer are present in cigarette smoke. These chemicals eventually pass into the urine through the blood. They can damage the cells that line the bladder. Over many years, this could cause bladder cancer.

The longer a person smokes and the more they smoke, the greater the risk.

We have tips and advice about giving up smoking.

Gender

Bladder cancer is more common in men than in women.

Exposure to chemicals at work

These include chemicals previously used in dye factories and industries such as rubber, leather, textile, printing, hairdressing, gasworks, plastic and paint. Many of these chemicals are now banned. But it can take more than 25 years after exposure to them for bladder cancer to develop.

If you think chemicals at your work may have caused the cancer, you may be able to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. The Department for Work and Pensions has more information about this benefit. If you live in Northern Ireland, visit NI Direct

Infection

Repeated urinary infections and untreated bladder stones are linked with a less common type of bladder cancer, called squamous cell cancer.

People who are paralysed because of an injury to their spinal cord can have more bladder infections. This may be why they have a higher risk of bladder cancer.

Previous treatment for cancer

People who have had radiotherapy to the pelvis have an increased risk of bladder cancer. People who have had the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide also have an increased risk. But the benefits of cyclophosphamide treatment far outweigh the risk of bladder cancer.

Diabetes

Diabetes has been linked with an increased risk of bladder cancer. A drug called pioglitazone is likely to be the cause of this. Other medicines for diabetes are not linked with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Family history

If you have a close relative who has had bladder cancer, your risk of developing it increases slightly. This may be due to sharing certain risk factors, such as smoking.

Rarely, an inherited gene may increase the risk of bladder cancer. But having a close relative that has also had bladder cancer does not mean an inherited gene has caused it. If you are worried about this, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse.

Bladder cancer isn’t infectious and can’t be passed on to other people.

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