Researchers have identified several different risk factors for developing bladder cancer.1,2 If you have one or more risk factors, it means that you are more likely to develop bladder cancer during your lifetime than someone who does not have those risk factors. Having a risk factor for bladder cancer does not mean that you will definitely develop it, however, it just means that you have a higher risk of developing it.
Understanding the risk factors for bladder cancer
Understanding the risk factors for bladder cancer and speaking with your healthcare provider about them is important, so that you can be on the lookout for early signs and symptoms. Some risk factors are things you cannot change—like your medical history or your age — but others are factors you can change, like quitting smoking.
Who is at a higher risk for developing bladder cancer?
People who are older are at a higher risk for developing bladder cancer—around 90% of people diagnosed with it are over the age of 55. Men are much more likely to develop bladder cancer than women, and people in the United States who are White/Caucasian are more likely to develop bladder cancer than people of other ethnic backgrounds.
Other risk factors are related to genetics, exposure to harmful substances, as well as the medical history of you and your family.
Exposure to harmful substances
Some of the risk factors for bladder cancer that are related to exposure to harmful substances at home or in the workplace, such as:
- Using tobacco of any kind
- Working or living in a place where you are exposed to certain harmful substances
- Drinking water that contains harmful substances
- Not drinking enough water
- Taking certain medicines and dietary supplements
Tobacco use of any kind, but especially cigarette smoking, is a very strong risk factor. Smoking is estimated to cause around 50% of bladder cancers. Nonsmokers are three times less likely to develop bladder cancer than people who smoke.1-3
Toxic chemicals in the workplace
Exposure to harmful substances in the workplace is also a risk factor for bladder cancer. These substances include processed paint, metal, dyes, and petroleum products that contain certain dangerous chemicals. Talk with your healthcare provider to make sure you are not being exposed to any risk factors for bladder cancer if you work in any industries where exposure to those chemicals is more likely. These industries include: rubber, leather, textiles, paint, printing, machinists, hairdressers, and truck driving.
Chemicals in drinking water
Regularly drinking water from a source that contains arsenic or chlorine can also increase your risk of bladder cancer. In fact, a recent study found that there was an increased risk of bladder cancer among people in New England who were drinking water from private wells that contained arsenic. However, this is not a concern for most people who drink from public water systems in the United States.
People who do not drink enough water on a daily basis may have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. Researchers think that staying hydrated causes people to urinate more often, which might rid the body of any harmful substances that could potentially harm the bladder.
Your medical history can also affect your risk of getting bladder cancer.1,2 If you have ever had bladder cancer before, then you have a higher risk of developing it again. You also have a higher risk of bladder cancer if you have ever had cancer anywhere in your urinary tract (bladder, kidney, urethra, or ureter).
People whose bladder is frequently irritated seem to have a slightly higher risk of developing bladder cancer, but researchers are not sure if the irritation actually causes the cancer. Bladder irritation can come from frequent urinary infections, kidney or bladder stones, or from having a urinary catheter for a long period of time.
There seems to be a link between bladder cancer risk and taking certain medicines, such as the diabetes medicine pioglitazone (researchers are still investigating this link), and certain dietary supplements, such as aristolochic acid. Bladder cancer is also more common among people who have had radiation treatment near the bladder, or who have had certain types of chemotherapy treatment.
Some people are born with birth defects that can increase their risk of getting bladder cancer. For example, a rare birth defect called exstrophy is related to the bladder and can be repaired with surgery soon after birth. However, being born with exstrophy can increase the risk of developing bladder cancer later in life.
Infection with a parasitic worm that causes a disease called schistosomiasis is a known risk factor for a rare form of bladder cancer, but this type of infection is not common in the United States.
Family medical history
Other risk factors for bladder cancer are related to your family’s medical history.1,2,5 Evidence suggests that people who have a close family member with bladder cancer are twice as likely to develop it themselves. In some cases, this may be due to exposure to the same harmful substances over time in the same family. However, researchers have discovered certain genetic mutations (changes in the DNA that make up our cells) that are passed down through families that can increase your risk of getting bladder cancer. These conditions include Cowden disease, Lynch syndrome, and other types of genetic mutations
Reducing my risk of developing bladder cancer
Some risk factors for bladder cancer are beyond your control, but there are steps you can take to reduce other risk factors.2,4
- If you smoke or use tobacco, speak with your healthcare provider about finding ways to stop for good.
- Stay hydrated and drink lots of fluids, but especially water.
- If you work around chemicals, try to reduce or avoid your exposure by following all health and safety guidelines.