Under normal circumstances, you probably don’t give bladder function much thought. Urine is produced in the kidneys, then stored in the bladder. When the storage space gets full, then it’s “time to go.” The empty bladder refills, and the process repeats multiple times every day throughout your lifetime. However, though you may not think about bladder health when everything is functioning properly, bladder cancer is the 6th most common type of cancer in the United States, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and risk factors for this disease.

Here are some of the common symptoms of bladder cancer:

Blood in the Urine

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is hematuria, which is the medical term for blood in the urine. In many cases, this symptom is painless, and the amount of blood in the urine can only be detected under a microscope, as it is too minute for the human eye to see. This symptom is often detected when urine is analyzed as part of a routine examination that includes a urine test. Since blood in the urine is the most common sign of bladder cancer, it should not be ignored. However, don’t jump to any quick conclusions either, as blood in the urine can also be a sign of other problems such as a urinary tract infection or kidney stones. When blood in the urine is detected either by you or your doctor, further testing is necessary in order to make a definitive diagnosis.

Frequent or Painful Urination

Though a less common symptom than blood in the urine, frequent urination or painful urination can also be a sign of bladder cancer. Of course, frequent or painful urination can be a symptom of many other problems as well. As with blood in the urine, further investigation is necessary in order to rule out the possibility of bladder cancer. If these symptoms occur, it is important to make an appointment with a urologist to confirm a diagnosis.

Smoking and Other Risk Factors for Bladder Cancer

Though the exact cause of bladder cancer still remains unknown, there are certain risk factors that make some people more likely candidates for the disease than others. Smokers are at an increased risk over nonsmokers. The cancer-causing agents in cigarette smoking have been estimated to cause at least 50 percent of the diagnosed cases of bladder cancer.

In addition, people who have had long-term exposure to chemicals in paints and solvents are also more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer. Why does exposure to cigarette smoke or chemicals increase the risk for bladder cancer? Before the carcinogens from smoke and chemicals are filtered out of the body, they remain in the bladder for several hours. During this time they interact with the bladder lining, until they can be eliminated from the body through urination. With this evidence in mind, it is important to avoid smoking and chemical exposure to limit the risk of bladder cancer.

At this time, there is no screening test for an early diagnosis of bladder cancer. The best practice is to limit the risk factors, and to undergo periodic testing of your urine. A simple urine test as a part of an annual doctor visit can help with early detection of bladder cancer, insuring that this disease is diagnosed and treated in its earliest possible stages.