Bladder Cancer Risk Factors

Bladder cancer will affect over 50,000 people this year. Of these individuals, 65 to 75 percent will be men. Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and one of the top eight cancers for women. According to the National Cancer Institute, bladder cancer is more prevalent in the westernized countries, like the United States, France and Canada. Asia and South America boast a seventy percent lower rate of bladder cancer than the Western World.

Cigarette Smoking and Bladder Cancer

One of the most preventable risk factors for bladder cancer is cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking is responsible for one third of all cancer deaths. While its connection with lung cancer is widely known, new evidence shows cigarette smoking also has a strong connection to bladder cancer. Current research finds that cigarette smokers are three times more likely to get bladder cancer than individuals with other risk factors. A strong link exists between the amount and duration of cigarette smoking, but the onset of cancer can be delayed 25 years or more following excessive tobacco use. Other tobacco users like pipe and cigar smokers also face a greater risk of bladder cancer.

Genetics and Bladder Cancer

While cigarette smoking is the strongest link to bladder cancer, other risk factors are associated with the onset of bladder cancer, including age, family history and ethnic group. Bladder cancer is most common between the ages of 50 and 70, especially if there is a known family history of bladder cancer. Caucasians are twice as likely to get bladder cancer as African Americans or Hispanics.

Occupational Risk Factors

Some of the same organic chemicals that are emitted from tobacco, known as aromatic amines, exist in certain occupational environments. People working with rubber, chemicals or leather, hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, printers, painters, textile workers and truck drivers are at risk of occupational exposure to aromatic amines.

Exposure to certain drugs, like cyclophosphamide or arsenic used in chemotherapy, may be a risk factor for bladder cancer. Arsenic is also used in pesticides. Some regions with high concentrations of arsenic in the drinking water show a higher rate of bladder cancer.

Urinary Tract Infections

An additional possible risk factor for bladder cancer is frequent bladder infections or urinary tract infections caused by bacteria. Frequent urinary tract infections can promote the growth of abnormal cells in the bladder. Bladder cancer in women can be misdiagnosed as a chronic urinary tract infection thereby delaying the onset of treatment. This accounts for a higher rate of bladder cancer deaths among women.

Other Risk Factors

Another potential cause of bladder cancer is a parasite in Africa and other tropical regions. This parasite, known as Schistosoma haematobium, may contribute to the risk of cancer by affecting the metabolism of cigarette smoke or by causing irritation of the bladder. These parasites are often responsible for causing bladder cancer in younger individuals.

Researchers are studying other possible connections to bladder cancer including pain relievers that contain the ingredient phenacetin, a weight-loss herb known as aristolochia fungchi, saccharin and other artificial sweeteners, and chlorine by-products. At this time, some connections can be made, but the evidence is not conclusive.


Beers, M. H.,