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Bladder cancer – what you need to know

Here’s what everyone in Yorkshire needs to know about bladder cancer.

Doctors looking at a computer screen

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer? 

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in your urine – also known as haematuria. It may appear as streaks of blood in your urine, or the blood may turn your urine brown. It is usually painless, it isn’t always noticeable, and may come and go.  

Having blood in your urine doesn’t necessarily mean you have bladder cancer. There are other more common causes of blood in urine, such as urinary tract infections, kidney infections or kidney stones, and enlarged prostate in men. 

Less common symptoms include: 

  • A need to wee more often
  • Sudden urges to wee
  • A burning sensation when weeing

Other symptoms to watch out for include: 

  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  • Swelling of the legs

How many people in Yorkshire get bladder cancer? 

986 people in Yorkshire were diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2021. This makes bladder cancer the 7th most common cancer in Yorkshire. The average rate of bladder cancer is higher in Yorkshire compared to England. 

Who is at risk of developing bladder cancer? 

Men are more likely to get bladder cancer than women. Nearly three times as many men than women are diagnosed with bladder cancer in Yorkshire. This could be because in the past, men were much more likely to smoke and work in the manufacturing industry - both of which involve being exposed to high levels of chemicals that can cause cancer.

Age is a significant factor for bladder cancer, as it is for many other cancers. In Yorkshire, three quarters of cases (76%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 and over.  

Nearly half (49%) of bladder cancers could be prevented, which means they are caused by factors which could be changed (unlike sex or age).  

The biggest preventable cause of bladder cancer is smoking. It is estimated that smoking causes more than 4 in 10 bladder cancers (44%), or about 438 cases in Yorkshire every year.  

People who work in certain jobs are also known to be at higher risk of bladder cancer, possibly because of chemicals that have historically been more common in their workplaces.

These include aromatic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and chlorinated hydrocarbons. These chemicals are commonly used in industrial processes, such as production of rubber, metals, dyes, paints and petroleum products.

Some other occupations may include some exposure to these chemicals and have also been linked to a higher risk of bladder cancer, including painters, hairdressers and farmers that use fungicides.

The link between bladder cancer and these types of occupations was discovered in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, regulations relating to exposure to cancer-causing chemicals have been made much more rigorous, and many of the chemicals known to cause bladder cancer have since been banned. However, these chemicals can still be linked with cancers diagnosed today, because it can take 30 years or longer for cancer to develop once a person has been exposed. 

Why is it important to catch bladder cancer early? 

482 people in Yorkshire died from bladder cancer in 2021 – that’s nine people every week.  

Data shows that people in Yorkshire are more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer at a late stage, with 35% of bladder cancers with a known stage being diagnosed late in our region, compared to 27% in England.  

Nationally, more than 1 in 7 bladder cancers are diagnosed via emergency presentation, for example after people go to A&E with symptoms.  

If bladder cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it can usually be treated more successfully, and the chances of survival are greater.   

If a bladder cancer is found early (at Stage 1) the survival rate is high, with around 8 in 10 people surviving 5 years or more. 

What happens if I go to the doctor with symptoms? 

If you have any symptoms of bladder cancer, such as blood in your urine, you should contact your GP. They may ask about your symptoms, family history, and risk factors such as smoking. They may ask for a urine sample for further tests. They may also conduct an examination of your rectum or vagina, as bladder cancers can sometimes cause lumps which can be felt there.  

If your GP suspects you have bladder cancer, you will be referred to a specialist at a hospital for further tests. These tests include a ‘cystoscopy’, where a thin tube with a camera is passed through the urethra (the tube through which you urinate) after anaesthetic gel has been applied. During the procedure, the specialist may take small samples (biopsies) of any tumours they find. The procedure takes around 5 minutes.

They may also offer a CT scan or an MRI scan to get a more detailed picture of your bladder and the surrounding area.  

What is Yorkshire Cancer Research doing about bladder cancer? 

In November 2020, Yorkshire Cancer Research announced £1.5 million of funding for a major clinical trial to explore the possibility of an early detection programme for bladder cancer. The study will test the idea of screening people at high risk of developing bladder cancer, using a combination of self-testing kits and early detection clinics in the community. 

Professor Jim Catto from University of Sheffield, who is leading the study, said: “This funding will allow us to undertake the feasibility steps for a comprehensive early detection programme for bladder cancer across Yorkshire. It will assess how well we can detect bladder cancer in several different Yorkshire populations and will look to confirm if the idea has potential to save lives.”  

If you have any potential symptom of bladder cancer, it’s important to contact your GP as soon as possible. It might not be serious, but if it does turn out to be bladder cancer, the earlier it is caught the better the chances of successful treatment.



Symptoms of bladder cancer - NHS

Cancer Registration Statistics, England 2021 - NHS Digital

Cancer Registration Statistics, England 2019 - NHS Digital

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Saginala K, Barsouk A, Aluru JS, Rawla P, Padala SA, Barsouk A. Epidemiology of Bladder Cancer. Med Sci (Basel). 2020;8(1).

Percentage of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2, England 2021 - NHS Digital

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Cancer survival in England - NHS Digital

Bladder cancer - Diagnosis - NHS (