On the grim top 10 list of the most common cancers in the United States, familiar faces sit at the top of the charts. Prostate cancer for men, breast cancer for women, lung and colon cancer for both sexes – all are diseases that have inspired massive awareness and fundraising efforts to inform patients and bolster scientific research. But the #5 cancer on the list (the #4 most commonly diagnosed cancer in men) has not gotten nearly as much attention as the Big Four. Bladder cancer was diagnosed in an estimated 71,000 people last year, according to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, but does not have the high profile of its kin.
Bladder cancer survivors and physicians hope to change that with the first Bladder Cancer Awareness Day, to be held this Saturday, July 17 with events around the country. It seemed like a good opportunity to sit down with our resident expert on bladder cancer, Dr. Gary Steinberg, for a comprehensive overview of the disease. Steinberg, the Bruce and Beth White Family Professor at the University of Chicago Medical Center, is a surgeon that specializes in the treatment of bladder cancer – both the removal of tumors and the bladder reconstruction that sometimes follows.
The risk factors for bladder cancer are not unique – smokers are twice as likely to develop the disease, while several industrial chemicals have been linked with tumors of the bladder, Steinberg says. As with many cancers, it’s a misnomer to think of bladder cancer as just one disease. Steinberg talks about the different types or “grades” of bladder cancer, and the range of treatment options available to patients with those diagnoses. He also describes ongoing research efforts to improve those treatments, from work with the Cancer Genome Atlas to find novel therapeutic targets for chemotherapy drugs to trials using stem cells to construct new urethras and bladders.