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Health Team

Smoking could lead to bladder cancer

Posted July 29, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2010 6:41 p.m. EDT

— Julian Jessups, 69, grew up in eastern North Carolina in a tobacco economy.

“And matter of fact, tobacco sent me to school,” he said.

It might also be what led to his bladder cancer, even though he'd quit smoking for five years when he noticed the first symptom – blood in his urine.

WakeMed urologist Dr. Sam Chawla says bladder cancer is one of the lesser known risks of smoking, but the same carcinogens that affect the lungs and cardiovascular system also flow into the bladder.

“They sit for three or four hours until you void. And all the while, they can affect the lining of the bladder and the kidneys and result in transitional cell carcinoma,” Chawla said.

Jessups’ early stage cancer was a more easily treated superficial form of the disease.

“We can usually scrape the cancer away without making any deep cuts in the skin,” Chawla said.

But the superficial form has a 50 percent recurrence rate.

First, Jessups had three tumors removed.

“Three months later, I had six additional tumors in six different locations,” he said. “So, it grows very fast.”

Invasive or deep forms of bladder cancer typically involve removing the bladder.

Jessups goes for regular checkups to make sure his cancer stays gone. For the past year, he has been cancer-free.

“Hopefully we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

A smoker’s risk of bladder cancer drops by about 40 percent within the first four years after quitting. The risk of all other cancers and cardiovascular disease drops dramatically as well.

Once diagnosed with bladder cancer, quitting smoking reduces a person’s risk of recurrence.