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Bladder Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Bladder cancer is caused by certain changes in how bladder cells function, especially how they grow and divide into new cells. There are many risk factors for bladder cancer, but many do not directly cause cancer. Instead, they increase the chance of DNA damage in cells that may lead to bladder cancer. To learn more about how cancer develops, see What Is Cancer?

A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors for bladder cancer, like using tobacco, can be changed. Risk factors also include things people cannot change, like their age and family history. It’s important to learn about risk factors for bladder cancer because it can help you make choices that might lower your risk of getting it.

Risk factors for bladder cancer

In the United States, bladder cancer occurs more often in men than in women, and more often in White individuals than in Black individuals. Bladder cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but the risk increases as a person gets older.

Using tobacco, especially smoking cigarettes, is a major risk factor for bladder cancer. Tobacco contains harmful chemicals called carcinogens. When you use tobacco, these chemicals get absorbed into the bloodstream, are filtered by the kidneys, and then collect in the urine. This exposes your bladder to high levels of these chemicals, which can damage the DNA in the cells lining your bladder. Learn about different tools to help you quit smoking and how to use them.

Other risk factors for bladder cancer include

  • having a family history of bladder cancer
  • having certain changes in the genes that are linked to bladder cancer, such as HRAS, RB1, PTEN/MMAC1, NAT2, and GSTM1
  • being exposed to paints, dyes, metals, or petroleum products in the workplace
  • past treatment with radiation therapy to the pelvis or with certain anticancer drugs, such as cyclophosphamide or ifosfamide
  • taking the Chinese herb Aristolochia fangchi
  • drinking water from a well that has high levels of arsenic
  • drinking water that has been treated with chlorine
  • having a bladder infection caused by a parasite called Schistosoma haematobium, which is common in Africa and the Middle East but rare in the United States
  • using urinary catheters for a long time

Having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean you will get bladder cancer. Many people with risk factors never develop bladder cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Talk with your doctor if you think you might be at risk of bladder cancer. Bladder cancer screening options may be available to you.

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