Knowing Bladder Cancer Signs and Treatment
- Nanny Faye Chrisley, 79, is doing “great” with her bladder cancer treatment after the January imprisonment of her “primary caregivers” Todd and Julie Chrisley.
- Bladder cancer develops when cells that make up the urinary bladder grow and develop into tumors. It is highly treatable when caught in the early stages of the disease.
- Blood in the urine, or hematuria, is a common first symptom of bladder cancer, but there are other signs of the disease. Some ways to help avoid the disease is to stay hydrated, not smoke, and see your doctor if you have symptoms that concern you.
- Treatment for bladder cancer depend on factors like the type of tumor, the stage of the disease, your general health and your personal wishes. The most common treatment for bladder cancer is surgery, which may be followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Other treatments like targeted therapy or immunotherapy may also be options for some. Checkpoint inhibitors, for example, have given metastatic bladder cancer patients a new sense of hope.
Nanny Faye, the beloved family matriarch on the long-running reality series “Chrisley Knows Best,” recently shared her progress on her granddaughter Savannah Chrisley’s “Unlocked” podcast.Read More
“She would get her chemo treatment, the next day she would be down for the count and then after that, she’d be in the car on the way to the casino,” Savannah joked, adding that her grandmother was a “champ.”
But that doesn’t mean the entire journey has been easy. Nanny Faye did say it has been “real hard” since her son Todd and daughter-in-law Julie Chrisley reported to prison in January after being convicted of financial crimes last year. Savannah said the couple were Nanny Faye’s “primary caregiver.”
“There wasn’t one treatment [for my bladder cancer] where my precious daughter-in-law wasn’t with me — not one time,” Nanny Faye said. “Through it all, she’s been with me.”
Understanding Nanny Faye’s Type of Cancer: Bladder Cancer
While bladder cancer is the fourth-most common cancer among men, women get the disease too. It develops when cells that make up the urinary bladder grow and eventually develop into tumors.
“Bladder cancer is one of those cancers that you don’t hear about too often, which has always been surprising to me because it is the fifth most common cancer that we see in the American population,” Dr. Jay Shah, the cancer care program leader for urologic oncology at the Stanford Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. [It’s worth noting that the National Cancer Institute puts it as the sixth-most common type of cancer in the U.S.]
What Are the Risk Factors for Bladder Cancer?
There are many factors to consider regarding your risk of developing bladder cancer. The following are some risk factors to think about:
- Smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer than non-smokers.
- Chemical exposure. Some chemicals used in dyes, rubber, leather, printing material, textiles and paint products have been linked to risk of this disease.
- Hydration. Drinking a lot of fluids each day is associated with lower bladder cancer risks, partly due to the fact that people who stay well-hydrated empty their bladders more often.
- Race. Caucasians are twice as likely to develop this cancer.
- Age. The risk of this disease increases as you age.
- Sex. Men are diagnosed more often than women.
- Personal history. Your risk increases if you or anyone in your family has had bladder cancer.
Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer can often be detected early because the main first sign of the disease – hematuria, or blood in the urine – is hard to overlook. This is great news because bladder cancer is highly treatable when detected early.
Blood can change the urine’s color to orange, pink or, in some extreme cases, dark red. Hematuria is usually the first sign of bladder cancer, but it can also occur with other health issues too.
“That is far and away the most common presenting symptom,” Dr. Arjun Balar, the director of the genitourinary medical oncology program at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?
In the early stages of bladder cancer, when the tumor is small and cancer cells are confined to the bladder, this bleeding is typically painless. Because of this and the fact that these symptoms can be brief and irregular, some people might not seek out medical help right away. And when there’s only small amounts of blood in the urine, you might not even see a noticeable change in color.
According to Dr. Balar, other bladder cancer symptoms resemble that of a urinary tract infection. He even said some patients might find out they have bladder cancer after “many courses of antibiotics to treat what was thought to be a urinary tract infection that simply did not get better.”
“Early acknowledgement of symptoms, and not ignoring symptoms is probably one of the other most important things that you can do,” he said.
Can Urinary Tract Infections Cause Bladder Cancer? The Answer Is Mostly No.
On top of blood in the urine, other possible symptoms of bladder cancer can include:
- Needing to urinate more frequently than you typically would
- Feeling like you need to urinate urgently even when your bladder isn’t full
- Waking up to urinate many times throughout a night
- Having a trouble urinating because of pain or a burning sensation
- Frequent urination, urgent urination, and uncomfortable urination are all symptoms of bladder cancer.
In addition, people with advanced bladder cancer may experience additional symptoms like:
- Inability to urinate
- Pain on one side of the lower back and pelvis
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- Fatigue or weakness
- Bone pain
- Swollen feet
There’s no recommended screening for bladder cancer since screening methods have not been shown to reduce the risk of dying from the disease for people with an average level of risk. Even still, doctors may recommend screening for certain high risk individuals. But if you want todo your best to avoid bladder cancer, Dr. Balar’s advice is simple:
“Hydrate well, don’t smoke and make sure that you get in to see your physician if you have symptoms that concern you.”
Treatment for Bladder Cancer
Treatment decisions for bladder cancer depend on a variety of factors including the type of tumor, the stage of disease, your general health and your personal wishes and values. The most common treatment for bladder cancer is surgery, which may be followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
The Role of Chemotherapy and Chemoradiation in the Treatment of Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer
Two common types of surgery include:
- Open surgery: surgery that requires a large incision, so the surgeon has direct access to the tumor and surrounding tissues.
- Robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery: a type of minimally invasive surgery in which your surgeon uses a robot to control surgical instruments through small openings in your body.
But other treatments like targeted therapy or immunotherapy may also be options for some. A newer class of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, for example, have given metastatic bladder cancer patients a new sense of hope.
“Immune checkpoint blockade really provided an alternative for those patients. And it was the first drug to be approved for use in metastatic bladder cancer in over 30 to 40 years,” Dr. Roger Li, a urologic oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, previously told SurvivorNet. “So it gave the medical oncologist as well as the urologist a new tool to treat our patients and also gave some of our patients hope to be put on those different agents after they progressed on chemotherapy.”
RELATED: What is the Role of Targeted Therapy in Bladder Cancer?
My Bladder Cancer Has Spread. What Are My Options?
As you’re discussing your treatment plan with a doctor, keep the following things in mind to guide the discussion:
- Know the stage and grade of your bladder cancer.
- Know which cells became cancerous to help your doctor determine which treatment options may work best. “The majority of bladder cancers are something called urothelial cancer, and that’s a particular cell type called urothelial cells that became cancerous,” Dr. Shah said.
- Learn your treatment options.
- Ask about potential side effects.
- Establish your treatment goals. Some people may prioritize quick recovery times after surgery or longer life expectancy and others may be more concerned with working after surgery or maintaining a certain quality of life throughout treatment.
- Explore your clinical trials options if you’re interested.
- Know that you can seek multiple opinions.
Overall, remember that you have options. Make sure you understand all of them as you’re creating a treatment plan with your healthcare team.
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