By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
When we talk about cancer, there are several sites/types that come to mind – lung, breast, prostate, and skin to name just a few. But there are some parts of our bodies that are just as susceptible, but we don’t think about as prone to cancer. Namely – our bladder. Sure, we think about it every few hours when nature calls, but its not a part of our bodies that we typically worry about. Let’s take some time today to talk about late stage bladder cancer, its symptoms, outlook, and treatment options.
What are the symptoms of stage 4 bladder cancer?
The most common and most noticeable symptom of bladder cancer is bloody. According to the American Cancer Society, other symptoms of bladder cancer include
- Frequent urination
- A feeling of burning or pain while urinating
- Urinary urgency, even after emptying your bladder
- Difficulty starting or maintaining a strong urine stream
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during the night
It is worth noting that these symptoms can resemble a urinary tract infection. Regardless of the cause – these indicators should be quickly evaluated by a medical professional so that treatment can begin for whatever condition should be the cause.
As bladder cancer progresses, though, so do the symptoms. With the progression of cancer, come more severe symptoms such as the inability to pass urine, bone pain, weight loss, pain in the back (often to one side or the other), swelling in the feet, and generalized weakness.
What is the prognosis for stage 4 bladder cancer?
As with other stage 4 cancers, the prognosis is not the most encouraging. Stage 4 bladder cancer is commonly divided into stage 4A and stage 4B. Stage 4A (along with stage 3B) is considered regional spread and sees a 5-year survival rate of roughly 35%. As the disease progresses to 4B, which is known as distant disease, the 5-year survival rate falls to as low as 5%.
How is stage 4 bladder cancer treated?
Once bladder cancer has reached stage 4 – typically the aim of treatment is to slow the growth and spread of the disease. This is accomplished via chemotherapy with or without radiation. Other surgical interventions may be called for, including a radical cystectomy (removal of the bladder). With any surgery, you should be sure to discuss the purpose of the procedure? Is this curative, or is it aimed at improving your quality of life? Make sure that you and your family fully understand why all procedures are being done, so that your expectations are aligned with those of your treatment team.
Immunotherapy is also an option for advanced bladder cancers that may not respond well to traditional treatments. Please feel free to read up on Immunotherapy and Cancer to learn more about this treatment option.
Beyond those treatment options, we look to researchers and their ideas for treating bladder cancer. Some exciting news came out of Purdue University in November 2019. Researchers there have found that when combining Anthrax toxin with a growth hormone, they have been able to specifically target bladder cancer cells in dogs that have “run out of treatment options.” Yes, Anthrax toxin sounds scary, and it can be, but remember that doctors have been using it for years to treat everything from migraines to forehead wrinkles.
And if a potential new treatment method weren’t good enough news, researchers at Georgetown University and Fudan University in China have devised a method of liquid biopsy for bladder cancer that can help develop personalized treatments based upon a person’s unique tumor markers. Should this method prove to be feasible in large scales, this could provide low cost, minimally painful, and high quality information for treatment teams.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!