Yes, Smoking Can Also Cause Bladder Cancer

November 15, 2018

There are many dangers of smoking and reasons to quit, but one that often flies under the radar is bladder cancer.

“Most patients are extremely surprised that smoking is one cause of bladder cancer,” said Dr. Gautum Agarwal with Mercy Clinic Urology. “Exposure to chemicals is a major factor and smoking is one thing we can control."

Patients are typically diagnosed with bladder cancer in their late 60s and early 70s. Treatment can vary depending on the stage but the outcomes improve dramatically if the patient quits smoking.

Dr. Agarwal said treatment for bladder cancer is the most expensive cancer to treat in the United States. The first signs of bladder cancer are blood in the urine. After surgery to remove the tumor, the bladder is often scrapped to make sure all the cancer is removed.

Early stages of cancer are treated with Bacille-Calmette Guerin (BCG), an immunotherapy drug put directly into the bladder via a catheter, which has shown to be better than chemotherapy at both keeping cancers from coming back and from getting worse.

“BCG has been around for about 15 years and was one of the first immunotherapies ever developed for bladder cancer,” Dr. Agarwal said. “Patients usually start with treatment weekly for six weeks and then continue for two to three years if they are responding to the medication.”

Dr. Gautum Agarwal speaks with a patient and her husband during a treatment follow-up appointment. Dr. Gautum Agarwal speaks with a patient and her husband during a treatment follow-up appointment.

Patient Testimonial

Debra Cullman had no idea smoking could lead to bladder cancer.

Dangers of Smoking

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, accounting for 29% of all cancer deaths. In fact, smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined. Smoking not only causes cancer. It damages nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, reproductive organs, mouth, skin, eyes, and bones.

Addiction to nicotine in cigarettes is one of the strongest and most deadly addictions one can have. While cigarette smoking rates have dropped (from 42% in 1965 to 15.5% in 2016), about 37.8 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Each year, approximately 20 million American smokers try to quit, representing more than half of the 37.8 million smokers in the U.S. Only about 1.4 million (7%) succeed. An even greater percentage of smokers (68%) report being interested in quitting. Quitting is hard. It takes commitment and starts with a plan, often takes more than one quit attempt, and requires a lot of support. Getting help through counseling and/or prescription medications can double or triple your chances of quitting successfully. 

Mercy is partnering with the American Cancer Society, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide support as people make their plan to quit. More information is available at cancer.org/smokeout or by calling 1-800-227-2345.