Researchers have long tried to identify the causes of various types of cancer, especially as incidences of cancer become more frequent. Are these individuals doing something to cause cancer? Are they predisposed because of a hereditary factor, or perhaps due to some malfunction in the DNA? Bladder cancer is one of those big question marks in the eyes of science and medicine.
A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria get into the system, typically through the urethra, and grow in some part of the urinary tract. The most common type of UTI is a bladder infection, though a more complex or untreated infection can back up into the kidneys and cause additional complications.
Risk factors for developing a UTI start with gender, but this is certainly not the only one.
- Being a woman. Women have shorter urethras than men, which makes it easier for bacteria to get into the bladder. Also, they are predisposed because the urethra opening is closer to the vagina and anus, where bacteria live, namely, E. coli, which is the main bacteria leading to infection.
- Age. Especially in women, age plays a role. Postmenopausal women lack estrogen, and this among other changes to hormones leads to greater risk of developing a UTI.
- History of kidney stones.
- Enlarged prostate. Men are not exempt from infection and can have an increased risk of UTIs if the prostate is enlarged and putting pressure on the urethra, disallowing proper emptying of the bladder.
- Use of a catheter. Whether having just had a procedure that required catheterization in the hospital or more frequent use, catheters can increase the risk of getting a UTI for both men and women.
- Diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. When the immune system is compromised, it is less likely to be able to fight off the bacteria that leads to infection.
Other things that could cause recurrent UTIs include incontinence, blockages to the urethra that make it difficult to empty the bladder, use of a diaphragm as birth control, use of douches or perfumed vaginal care products, and pregnancy. Also, if diagnosed with a UTI, a patient should take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed. Stopping early can leave bacteria in the body, which may even become resistant to antibiotics, which can create a cycle of frequent UTIs.
Understanding bladder cancer
The basic idea of cancer is that cells in some part of the body start to grow out of control and, often, develop irregularly compared to how they should form. These overgrowths form tumors, or cell clusters, and over time, the cells can spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).
Bladder cancer involves these growths within the bladder or the surrounding urinary tract, including the urethra and ureters. There are several types of bladder cancer, which makes it more difficult to diagnose and treat. The most common type of bladder cancer is urothelial carcinoma, which a physician may also call transitional cell carcinoma or TCC. This type of cancer starts in the urothelial cells, which line the bladder walls, as well as reaching into parts of the urethra, ureters, and kidneys. Other types of bladder cancer include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, small cell carcinoma, and sarcoma.
Risk factors for bladder cancer include:
- Gender. Unlike UTIs, however, bladder cancer is more common in men.
- Age. On average, bladder cancer develops and is diagnosed in individuals over the age of fifty-five.
- Tobacco use. Individuals who currently or have previously used tobacco are at a higher risk for multiple types of cancer, including bladder cancer.
- Chemotherapy. If a person has already undergone treatment of another type of cancer with chemotherapy, they are at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer.
- Exposure. Those who work or worked with certain types of industrial chemicals or dyes are more likely to develop bladder cancer.
- Infection. While studies are still underway to confirm, a history of chronic bladder infections, or UTIs, could be a risk factor for bladder cancer.
The link between UTIs and bladder cancer
The way in which bladder infections and other types of UTIs are related to bladder cancer still sparks a great deal of debate due to the conflicting results of various research. It’s also a fuzzy topic because, in order to truly determine cause and effect, multiple types of bladder cancer have to be taken into consideration.
One theory points to UTIs as a savior when it comes to risk factor for bladder cancer. In this theory, researchers propose that, if a person has had a few UTIs that were properly treated early on, they are less likely to develop bladder cancer, reasoning that the antibiotics that treated the UTI could help prevent the formation of cancerous cells and that the previous UTIs have promoted a great immune response from the body to the cancerous cells.
On the other hand, the body produces certain chemicals in response to a UTI, such as nitric oxide, that cause further inflammation. This could literally promote the growth of a tumor, which then increases the risk of cancer or the risk of cancer becoming more severe and spreading.
Also, while urothelial cancer is the most common type, the link between UTIs causing cancer seems to lean more toward other types of bladder cancer, which are far less common (urothelial cancer comprises about ninety percent of bladder cancer in the United States).
It’s unclear still how UTIs and bladder cancer relate. However, they do have similar symptoms, which is just another reason it’s important to follow up with a physician regarding suspicion of a UTI. It could be something far more serious, and it’s essential to get treatment early to avoid spreading and complications, should cancer be the culprit. Taking care of the body is the best way to promote long term health and quality of life, so ignoring any symptoms could be detrimental in the long run.