Age, smoking, and exposure to toxins are just some of the factors that increase your risk of dying from bladder cancer. But many of the known risks are preventable.

Bladder cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer in the United States, but it ranks eighth in terms of types of cancer that lead to death.

Although it’s not one of the most deadly forms of cancer, it’s still possible to die from bladder cancer — and those assigned male at birth may face a higher risk.

In this article, we take a look at the causes and mortality risks associated with bladder cancer and how you can lower your risk of getting bladder cancer.

Where in your bladder does cancer typically develop?

Your bladder stores urine after it’s processed by your kidneys and before it leaves your body. Urothelial cells and smooth muscle line your bladder, allowing it to stretch and shift as your bladder fills and empties.

Urine is made up of excess fluid and other substances from your body, including toxic substances that your kidneys are removing from the bloodstream. These harmful substances are believed to be the main cause of bladder cancer.

The urothelial cells come into contact most closely with urine and are the cells affected by cancer in 90% of people with bladder cancer. Cancer that progresses to the smooth muscle layers accounts for about 10% of all people with bladder cancer and lowers your chances of survival.

Was this helpful?

The cause of death for many people with nonmetastatic bladder cancer isn’t the bladder cancer itself. One 2020 study found that about 44% of deaths in people with bladder cancer weren’t related to bladder cancer but to nonbladder cancers (10%) and other noncancer causes (34.2%).

According to that study, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were the most common noncancer causes of deaths reported. But researchers also noted that people with bladder cancer had a higher risk of dying from secondary cancers, heart diseases, and COPD than the people who never had bladder cancer.

It should be noted that heart disease and COPD are both smoking-related diseases, as is bladder cancer.

Factors that increase the risk of mortality

There are a number of things that can increase your risk of dying from bladder cancer, mainly increasing age. People older than 60 years of age make up the majority of people with bladder cancer, and being older than 60 years of age is considered one of the main risk factors of developing and dying from bladder cancer.

Other major mortality risk factors for bladder cancer include:

Overall, according to a study that divided people into groups of either men or women, the cumulative risk of dying from bladder cancer between birth and 74 years of age is 0.29% for men and 0.08% for women.

Who’s at risk?

Was this helpful?

The short-term outlook for those who have received a diagnosis of bladder cancer depends on their overall health, but there are some specific factors that can impact mortality too.

Cancer that’s considered to be in situ — meaning only in the superficial layers of your bladder — carries the lowest mortality risk. Invasive cancers that extend to the muscle layers to metastasize to other areas of your body are more deadly. Roughly 1 in 3 people’s bladder cancer extends beyond the superficial layers of their bladder wall but remain within their bladder. Only about 4% of all people’s bladder cancer spreads to other parts of their body.

About 48% of people who died within 1 to 3 years of receiving a bladder cancer diagnosis died directly from bladder cancer, while only about 3% of people who survived 10 years or more after receiving their initial diagnosis died of primary bladder cancer.

Health factors beyond your overall health and the stage of your cancer that can increase your short-term mortality risk with bladder cancer include:

  • increased age (being older than 50 years of age)
  • white ethnic background
  • delays in treatment with chemotherapy or radiation
  • lack of health insurance
  • being unmarried

Although white people have a higher overall incidence rate of bladder cancer, mortality rates from bladder cancer are higher in Black people. A 2022 study that examined cancer mortality rates in the United States from 1999 to 2019 suggests that social inequalities and barriers to healthcare contributed to higher mortality rates among Black men and women.

There are also higher mortality rates of bladder cancer in undeveloped countries, especially where schistosomiasis infections are the cause of the cancer. These infections are most common in North and East Africa and in the Middle East.

You can still enjoy a long life after receiving a bladder cancer diagnosis depending on the stage and grade of your cancer at the time receiving the diagnosis and the level of follow-up care you receive.

Treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can come with side effects that lead to other health problems including infections and nerve damage. There’s also the chance that your cancer could return after initial treatment or that secondary cancers appear in other areas.

Although survival rates for people with bladder cancer 5 years after receiving a diagnosis of it and beyond are generally good, you should schedule follow-up exams with a healthcare professional every 3 to 6 months.

Some methods used to check for recurrent or new cancer growth may include:

In cases of superficial, noninvasive bladder tumors, a follow-up cystoscopy will be done every 3 months after endoscopic resection of the tumor. In some cases, medication will be instilled into your bladder to lower the chances of recurrence.

Bladder cancer doesn’t often run in families and doesn’t have a strong genetic link. This means that most causes of bladder cancer are gotten and could therefore be prevented.

Although there’s little you can do about increasing age — a primary risk factor for bladder cancer — you can take steps to limit the toxins that enter your body and improve your overall health.

Some health prevention strategies that are recommended to lower your risk of developing bladder cancer or having bladder cancer return include:

What causes bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is rarely caused by genetics or passed through families. Age, gender, and tobacco smoking are some of the risk factors most often linked to bladder cancer. Exposure to toxins or chemicals can also increase your risk of bladder cancer. Bladder cancer in some people is caused by a schistosomiasis infection.

What are the main symptoms of bladder cancer?

The main symptoms of bladder cancer include:

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

Bladder cancer is diagnosed with a combination of tests, including:

How is bladder cancer treated?

Bladder cancer is treated like many other forms of cancer. In the majority of people, their bladder tumors can be removed endoscopically. This procedure will also determine if the cancer has spread into surrounding muscles. More extensive surgery depends on the type of tumor and the degree of local or distant spread.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy — treatments that destroy rapidly growing cancer cells — are also common. In some cases, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, or even immunotherapy, may be used to shrink tumors before surgery.

Bladder cancer isn’t one of the most deadly cancers. In fact, almost as many people with bladder cancer die from other causes as from bladder cancer itself.

Getting treatment right away and keeping up on your follow-up care can help increase your chances of survival with bladder cancer. There are also steps you can take to prevent this type of cancer from forming in the first place.

Smoking and exposure to toxic chemicals are some of the leading, and preventable, causes of bladder cancer.