BY JANE LANGILLE
IN 2013, Costco member
Stephen Wilson had no
symptoms. A urine test
detected the presence of
blood. After an ultrasound and an exploratory
procedure called a cystoscopy, Wilson learned
he had advanced, stage 4
cancer. His oncologist said he had only a 15
per cent chance of surviving five years.
Wilson was surprised to learn that
bladder cancer is the fifth most common
cancer in Canada. According to the report
Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017 by the
Canadian Cancer Society ( cancer.ca), an
estimated 8,900 Canadians were diagnosed with the disease and 2,400 died
from it in 2017. It affects more than twice
as many men as women: An estimated
6,700 men were diagnosed, compared with
2,200 women. May is Bladder Cancer
Awareness Month, so now is a good time to
take a closer look at this illness.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptom is blood
in the urine, which may look pale yel-low-red to bright or rusty red. Blood may
always be present or come and go, and may
not be visible. Other symptoms include
frequent urination, an intense need to urinate, pain or burning sensations during
urination and back, pelvic or groin pain.
Bladder cancer is often misdiagnosed
FOR YOUR HEALTH
Your Costco pharmacist can advise you
about smoking cessation aids. Costco carries a variety of healthful vegetables, fruits,
whole grains, legumes and lean protein.
Check it out
as a urinary tract infection because the
symptoms are so similar. “As with many
cancers, bladder cancer symptoms can be
very generic. It’s important to be aware of
the signs and symptoms and follow up with
your doctor about changes in normal bladder habits,” says Leah Smith, senior manager of cancer surveillance at the Canadian
Who’s at risk?
Smoking is the most common risk factor. Until his diagnosis, Wilson had been a
lifelong smoker. Other factors include
drinking water contaminated with high
levels of arsenic and occupational exposure to chemicals associated with working
in certain industries, such as professional
painting and manufacturing of rubber,
aluminum, metal, and textiles and dyes.
There are two types of bladder cancer.
The more common, non-muscle-invasive,
occurs in the cells lining the bladder and
accounts for about 90 per cent of all cases.
Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination approach, depending on the cancer’s stage
and how different the cancer cells look and
behave compared with normal cells.
Typical treatment for early-stage cancer
involves a surgical procedure to remove
tumours from inside the bladder, followed
by immunotherapy or chemotherapy inserted directly into the bladder. “
Non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer has up to a
70 per cent recurrence rate. Patients must
undergo repeat treatments over their lives
to remove new tumours and chemotherapy
to limit recurrence,” says Wilson.
Wilson, unfortunately, had muscle-
invasive bladder cancer. Surgeons removed
his bladder and constructed a neobladder,
an internal pouch that collects urine and
allows for normal urination. A more typical
procedure involves urinary diversion to an
Since his recovery from surgery,
Wilson has been volunteering as a board
member of Bladder Cancer Canada (blad
dercancercanada.org). “Bladder cancer is
a sensitive topic because it involves a personal body function essential to life that
we tend to keep private, but awareness
saves lives,” he says.
Scientific advances are providing promising new ways to diagnose and treat
bladder cancer. A new detection technique
for non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer
involves using a chemical marker that
makes the cancer cells glow bright pink
under blue light, helping surgeons confirm
tumour removal. Called Cysview, the technology was approved by Health Canada
( canada.ca/en/health-canada) in 2015 and
is available in some hospitals.
New immunotherapy drugs that harness the body’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells, such as atezo-lizumab (Tecentriq) and pembrolizumab
(Keytruda), are showing promise in treating advanced bladder cancer.
Today, over four years later, Wilson
says, “I’m glad I’m well on my way to being
a five-year survivor.” C
Jane Langille ( janelangille.com) is a
Toronto-area health and medical writer.
LOWER YOUR RISK
ACCORDING TO THE Canadian Cancer
Society, nearly one in two Canadians is
expected to be diagnosed with some
form of cancer in his or her lifetime, but
about half of all cancers can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle. Here’s
how to lower your risk.
Stop smoking. This is the No. 1 way
to reduce your risk of cancer.
Eat a healthy diet. Focus on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, fish,
legumes and nuts.
Move more, sit less. Be moderately
active at least 150 minutes per week.
Limit alcohol to no more than one
drink a day for women and two for men.
Get regular checkups. Speak to your
doctor about changes in your health and
find out what cancer screening tests are
right for you.—JL