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Home » Bladder and bowel » The earlier bladder cancer is caught, the better the outcome can be

Kathryn Chatterton

Bladder Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Bladder cancer is highly treatable if it is caught early enough. That’s why you shouldn’t delay if you spot symptoms, which can include blood in your urine. See your GP.

“Let’s be honest,” says Kathryn Chatterton, Bladder Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. If you have the symptoms of bladder cancer, you might be embarrassed about going to the doctor. But her firm message is: Don’t be. Because if this type of cancer is diagnosed early enough, it is highly treatable.

“The bladder is one of those taboo areas,” admits Chatterton. “People can be embarrassed about it because it’s to do with their private parts, so if they have symptoms — the most common one is blood in the urine — they might be tempted to put off seeing their GP. But they shouldn’t because the earlier this cancer is caught, the better the outcome can be. So don’t ignore it.”

Different types of bladder cancer

We should all talk more about bladder cancer, says Chatterton, because it’s not discussed nearly enough and can be widely misunderstood. For instance, there are (essentially) two types of the disease: non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, which means the cancer is still contained within the lining of the bladder wall and could be more treatable; and invasive bladder cancer, where cancer has spread into the muscle layer of the bladder wall — and possibly to adjacent organs — and could be more difficult to treat.

Smokers are four times more likely to develop bladder cancer.

How common is it, and what are the symptoms?

“Bladder cancer doesn’t get as much coverage as, say, breast, bowel or prostate cancer,” she says. “But it’s not rare. It’s the 11th most common cancer in the UK, and over 21,000 people are diagnosed with it each year.” While historically, it has been thought of as an ‘older person’s disease,’ it can affect adults of all ages. “It’s generally more prevalent in the over 65s — but not exclusively,” notes Chatterton. “We’re seeing increasing numbers of younger people, even those in their thirties and forties, with this type of cancer.”

Make sure you know how to spot the symptoms. The most common one is blood in the urine, which, when you are passing it, is often painless. Others include urinating more frequently and urgently and/or pain during urination. In most cases, this will indicate a urinary tract infection, and antibiotics will be prescribed accordingly. But if symptoms persist after treatment, the patient should be referred to a urologist for further investigation.

Treatment options and the best way to lower risk

If cancer is diagnosed — depending on its type, risk and seriousness — treatment can include transurethral resection of a bladder tumour (TURBT), where a surgeon will cut tumours away from the lining of the bladder; with a single dose or longer course of chemotherapy into the bladder. In some high-risk or advanced cases, an operation to remove the bladder followed by radiotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be necessary.

Patients will see many healthcare professionals during their treatment, but they will also be supported by a Bladder Clinical Nurse Specialist, such as Chatterton. “We provide a constant, familiar point of contact for specific care needs,” she explains. “That continuity of care is vital for the mental health and wellbeing of patients and their loved ones.”

We can do something to lower our risk of developing the disease. While bladder cancer can be caused by — among other things — exposure to harmful chemicals and untreated, recurring bladder infections, the biggest culprit — by far — is smoking. “Smokers are four times more likely to develop bladder cancer,” says Chatterton. “So, my other big message — apart from seeing your GP immediately if you have concerns — is simple: Don’t smoke.”

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