What are risk factors?

There are certain things that can affect the chances of developing bladder cancer. These are called risk factors.

Having a risk factor does not mean a person will get bladder cancer. People with no risk factors can also develop bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.


Bladder cancer is more common in people over the age of 60. It is rare in people under the age of 40.


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

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


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.

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


Repeated urinary infections and untreated bladder stones are linked to 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. They may have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer.

An untreated infection called schistosomiasis, which is caused by a worm (parasite) that lives in fresh water, may cause bladder cancer. The parasite is found in Africa, but also lives in parts of the Middle East. This infection is rare in the UK.

Previous treatment for cancer

People who have had radiotherapy to the pelvis have a higher risk of developing 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 developing bladder cancer.


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

Family history

If you have a close relative who has had bladder cancer, you may have a slightly higher chance of developing it. This could be because people in the same family may share certain risk factors, such as smoking.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
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