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How Additional Health Complications Impact Bladder Cancer

As if a diagnosis of bladder cancer isn’t challenging enough, many in our community are dealing with bladder cancer on top of other health conditions. In our Bladder Cancer In America 2017 survey, 94% of respondents cited having other health conditions, with the most common being high blood pressure (43%), high cholesterol (41%), arthritis (32%), and diabetes (26%). We also asked our Facebook community, “what other conditions are you dealing with?” We found that many are coping with multiple conditions, including anxiety, depression, kidney disease, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain, among others.

In addition to the physical and emotional stress that come with having multiple health conditions, research indicates that having other conditions (what the medical field calls comorbidities) can impact a person’s prognosis, or expected outcome, with bladder cancer.

Having other health conditions can impact bladder cancer diagnosis

While some have proposed that the presence of other health conditions means that patients are seeing doctors more frequently and may lead to earlier diagnosis of cancer, comorbidities may distract both the individual and their doctor from early signs of cancer. A New Zealand research study that evaluated the impact of comorbidities on the diagnosis of several different types of cancer in over 14,000 patients found that overall, the presence of other health conditions increased the odds of being diagnosed with distant disease – cancer that had spread beyond its original location, which indicates a later stage of cancer. Some conditions, including alcohol abuse disorders, neurological conditions, congestive heart failure, major psychiatric disorders, and pulmonary circulation disorders, were more likely to be associated with a later stage of cancer. Only two conditions, chronic viral hepatitis and intestinal disorders, were associated with a decreased risk of later stage cancer.1

Having other health problems can impact prognosis

One study that looked at how other conditions impacts prognosis followed 675 people who were newly diagnosed with bladder cancer, and 66% had at least one other health condition. Over an average follow-up of 45 months, investigators found that the overall health of the patients impacted their survival, as some comorbidities are so severe that they prevent the use of preferred bladder cancer treatments. For example, some people who are diagnosed with bladder cancer aren’t healthy enough to be a good candidate for surgery.2

While doctors typically evaluate patients based on the tumor characteristics and the stage of cancer to determine proper treatment, the presence of other health conditions is also an important factor in choosing treatments as well as influencing prognosis. The study authors note that comorbidities can impact overall survival of bladder cancer in two ways: these other health conditions may cause complications or death, and they can limit treatment options for bladder cancer. It is important to note that the rate of comorbidities is also associated with increased age, and increased age and stage of bladder cancer were also predictive of survival. This type of research is important to determine how comorbidities affect bladder cancer patients and to identify treatment protocols that work in different patient groups.2

What can you do if you have other health conditions?

If you are dealing with bladder cancer on top of other health conditions, managing your health may be complex. Being proactive about your health and partnering with your doctors to take the best care of your physical and mental health can help you manage symptoms and help your body heal. Here are some tips for managing your health during treatment:

  • Understand how your health conditions may impact your cancer treatment. Ask your doctor what impact your health conditions may have on your treatment for bladder cancer, including your treatment options and possible side effects. It’s important to understand the basics about each of your health conditions, including what symptoms to watch out for and what treatments or lifestyle modifications can help.
  • Keep track of your medications. All of your doctors should know what medications and supplements you are taking, as some medications can interfere with each other or even cause serious side effects. Keep a list of your current prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements. To remember to take medications, some people find it helpful to use weekly pill organizer boxes, which can separate the pills by day and time.
  • Decide on what outcomes are important to you. Each of us has our own priorities and what is important to one may not be to another. Talk to your doctor about what treatment outcomes are most important to you, such as level of independence, pain, or energy level. This can help your doctor to choose the right treatment approach that is best for you.
  • Ask for help. While it can be challenging for those of us who are used to being independent to ask for help, managing multiple health conditions is difficult, and it is not a sign of weakness to ask for and allow others to help you. In addition to speaking to healthcare professionals candidly about your needs, ask family members, friends, or neighbors to assist you and give them specific ideas on how to help.

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