Smoking: A major cause of bladder cancer

March 2, 2017

Bladder cancer is the fifth leading cancer in South African men according to the National Cancer Registry. It usually develops in the cells that line the inside of the bladder affecting more men than women and typically affecting adults over the age of 55, although it can strike at any age. Bladder cancer is most often detected due to the presence of blood in the urine.

Dr Hugo van der Merwe from The Urology Hospital in Pretoria warns the public to consult an urologist at the first sign of blood in the urine, he adds; “This is often diagnosed as an infection but I urge the public to immediately see an urologist because early detection is vital.”

Van der Merwe said bladder cancer was relatively common but most types are benign and easily treatable. “There is, however, a certain sub-group of bladder cancers, about 20%, which are much more aggressive and which require radical therapy, often a combination of chemotherapy and surgery.” Fortunately most bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage when they are highly treatable.

Smoking is the greatest risk factor for developing bladder cancer in both men and women. According to, smokers are at least three times more likely to get bladder cancer than non-smokers and about half of all bladder cancers can be linked to smoking. It is thought that carcinogenic chemicals in tobacco smoke are absorbed through the lungs into the blood stream. The kidneys then filter these cancer-causing chemicals out of the blood stream and concentrate them in the urine where they can damage the cells lining the bladder thereby increasing the risk of developing cancer.

There are a number of causes, such as inherited risk factors, of bladder cancer over which we have no control, but there are a number of risk factors that are directly in our control. The main risk factor, with the greatest contribution to bladder cancer and which is totally preventable, is smoking. Stopping smoking prevents the carcinogens present in tobacco smoke from entering the bladder and significantly reduces the risk of developing bladder cancer. The cancer association also recommends drinking lots of fluids, especially water, to reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer. It is thought that people that drink plenty of fluids have less concentrated urine and empty their bladders more often thereby reducing exposure of the delicate cells lining the bladder to irritants and cancer-causing chemicals.

Convincing smokers to stop smoking can be extremely challenging especially the younger smokers who may not appreciate the risks associated with smoking. It is also difficult to stop smoking once the habit is established and the body is dependent on nicotine. Withdrawal is unpleasant and relapse is high even when a smoker desperately wants to quit smoking.

Evidence shows that the best way to quit smoking is through a full stop smoking programme that combines support, nicotine replacement therapy or other stop smoking medication and behavioural modification. Gosmokefree is a fully supported stop smoking programme that uses the proven combination therapy. The Gosmokefree programme greatly increases a smokers chances of stopping smoking when compared to a smoker who attempts to quit cold turkey.

GoSmokeFree smoking cessation programme

Triple your chance of successfully stopping smoking with the GoSmokeFree smoking cessation programme which uses a proven combination of behaviour change therapy, support and medication such as nicotine replacement therapy.

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This article contains opinions and facts and references to other information sources. You should always consult a registered healthcare professional for any personal advice.

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