May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month in Canada and health advocates are hoping to spread the word about this common but relatively unknown form of cancer.
“Awareness about Bladder Cancer Canada and how we can help is not nearly as high as we would like,” says Tammy Northam, BCC Executive Director, in a press release. “It is our goal this year to reach as many people as possible who’ve been affected by this disease. The more people know, the more people we can support.”
Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Canada, the fourth most common for men and 12th most for women. Each year, 9,000 Canadians will be newly diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Smoking is the greatest risk factor for bladder cancer, causing half of all bladder cancers in men and women. Smokers are at least three times as likely to develop the disease as nonsmokers. Other known risk factors include age (nine out of ten people diagnosed with bladder cancer are over the age of 55), genetics and family history, chronic bladder irritation and infections and ethnicity (caucasians are more likely to develop the disease than other races).
A common early sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, something that many people may overlook or, often the case for women, misinterpret as a urinary tract infection.
“On occasion, some patients can have blood in their urine once and then it will never reoccur again until a year later,” says Dr. Wassim Kassouf of the McGill Urology Health Centre and Bladder Cancer Canada, to Global News. “So if you see blood in the urine, you should seek medical attention to make sure there’s nothing serious going on.”
Once detected, treatment options for bladder cancer depend on the stage of development but can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. The five-year survival rate for bladder cancer is about 77 per cent, while the ten-year survival rate is 70 per cent.
For invasive and highly aggressive bladder cancer tumours, however, only one line of chemotherapy is available, and few patients respond to the second treatment option, immunotherapy. But in a recent study, researchers at the University of British Columbia developed a promising treatment procedure involving a drug made from a malaria protein, which in mice trials has been found to be particularly effective at stopping aggressive tumour growth.
“This is the first study where we put the concept of using malaria proteins for cancer therapy into a direct clinical context,” said Mads Daugaard, assistant professor of urologic science at the University of British Columbia and a senior research scientist at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. “There is a massive clinical need to find new treatments for bladder cancer and we saw an opportunity to target this disease with our new malaria drug.”
Bladder Cancer Canada says the month-long campaign will involve a series of promotional events, including municipal proclamations for May as Bladder Cancer Awareness Month as well as the lighting up of landmarks across the country in yellow, the campaign’s theme colour. Last May marked the first ever Bladder Cancer Awareness Month.