Bladder cancer, specifically known as carcinoma, predominantly affects the inner lining of the bladder and results from abnormal cellular growth that forms a malignant tumor. The most prevalent sub-type of this cancer is transitional cell carcinoma, also referred to as urothelial carcinoma, which originates in the urothelial cells lining the bladder’s inner walls. Fortunately, doctors can frequently diagnose bladder cancer in its early stages when it is highly treatable. Recognizing the warning signs is crucial for early detection, effective treatment, and a successful recovery.
Blood in Your Urine
Blood in the urine, also known as hematuria, is the most common and often the first indicator of bladder cancer. This symptom arises when a tumor within the bladder begins to bleed. The color of the urine may vary, appearing bright red, orange, or pink, and can occur either regularly or intermittently. In some cases, the presence of blood may be microscopic and only detectable through a urinalysis ordered by a healthcare professional. During the early stages of bladder cancer, hematuria might be the sole warning sign.
Frequent or Urgent Need to Urinate
Individuals suffering from bladder cancer might experience frequent or urgent urination. The typical urination frequency varies based on numerous factors, with daily water consumption playing a significant role. Generally, healthy adults urinate four to eight times daily. If one finds themselves urinating more frequently, it could signal a bladder-related issue, including cancer. Another potential warning sign is the sudden and immediate need to urinate, which may lead to involuntary leakage.
Difficulty Emptying Your Bladder
On the other hand, bladder cancer can also manifest through urinary retention. This can lead to complications such as the inability to urinate when the urge arises, difficulty starting a urine stream, interrupted urination, and straining while trying to empty the bladder. Additionally, individuals may experience the urge to urinate right after emptying their bladder. Urinary retention is often caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract due to the tumor, or the formation of blood clots within the bladder.
A Noticeable Mass in the Pelvic Region
In the early stages of bladder cancer, neither the affected individual nor a doctor can physically detect a tumor. However, as the disease progresses, a physician may be able to identify a palpable mass within the pelvic region. This often suggests that the tumor has advanced and the cancerous cells have infiltrated the deeper layers of the bladder walls. Additionally, the presence of a palpable mass could indicate that the cancer has started to metastasize or spread throughout the body.
Repeated Urinary Tract Infections
Bladder cancer doesn’t always cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), but its symptoms can be easily mistaken for them. The signs of bladder cancer and a UTI are strikingly similar, and when a physician hears about these symptoms and finds blood in a patient’s urine during a urinalysis, they might misdiagnose the issue as a common infection and prescribe antibiotics. However, if someone experiences recurring UTIs without any other apparent cause, it could be an indication of a more serious underlying condition like bladder cancer.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Weight loss is a common symptom in many types of cancer, including bladder cancer. This occurs for a variety of reasons, such as the body’s immune response to cancerous cells and a decrease in appetite. When the immune system detects these harmful cells, it releases substances known as cytokines to combat them. Unfortunately, this response can also impact the body’s metabolism, leading to the loss of both muscle and fat. This is why unexplained weight loss can be a potential warning sign of bladder cancer.
Anemia or Low Red Blood Cell Count
Anemia is a condition that arises when the blood has insufficient hemoglobin, the essential red blood cell component responsible for delivering oxygen throughout the body. In the case of bladder cancer, anemia may develop as a result of the processes involved in the growth of the malignant tumor, which can deplete the body of vital nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron. Symptoms of anemia include shortness of breath, swelling in the hands and feet, and an increased heart rate.
Cancer Spreading to Other Organs (Metastasis)
If left untreated, bladder cancer can spread to other parts of the body, most commonly affecting the liver, lungs, and bones. The worsening signs and symptoms of bladder cancer can often indicate metastasis, or the spreading of the cancer. The specific symptoms of metastasis can depend on which area the cancer has spread to. For example, liver cancer may cause abdominal swelling and jaundice, while persistent coughing and difficulty breathing could suggest lung cancer. In the case of bone cancer, individuals may experience weak, fragile bones that break easily and persistent bone pain.
Pain and Discomfort in the Pelvic Area
Individuals with bladder cancer commonly experience pain and irritation during urination, frequently resulting in a burning sensation. Additionally, they may endure bloating and discomfort in the lower abdomen, as well as generalized pain in the back and pelvis. While painful urination is typical in the early stages of bladder cancer, more advanced or radiating pain typically does not develop until the disease progresses to later stages.
Persistent Fatigue and Weakness
Fatigue and weakness are common symptoms in many types of cancer, especially during the later stages. This is often due to the release of cytokines, substances produced by the immune system that not only cause cancer-related weight loss but also contribute to feelings of exhaustion. Additionally, anemia and a lack of appetite can further exacerbate these symptoms.
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