Bladder cancer is a horrible disease. I went through this disease with my father. He passed away in December 2017. It seems to be a disease of the aging population; about 9 out of 10 people have been diagnosed with it at 73 years. With the various advances in medical science, the life expectancy rate has increased to a great extent. And then the elderly population is going to double by the year 2050. The chance men will develop this cancer during their life is about 1 in 27. For women, the chance is about 1 in 89. Whites are more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer than African Americans or Hispanics.
According to the statistics provided by the national cancer association. About 55% of cases of bladder cancer are in the elderly aged 70 years and above. And about 23% of patients are in the elderly old 80 years and above.
Understanding bladder cancer
It is a cancer that originates in the bladder of the individual. Cancer begins when the cells of the bladder begin to grow uncontrollably. However, it can still occur or start from other urinary system parts.
There are three types of bladder cancer, namely:
Transitional cell carcinoma/ urothelial carcinoma
This happens to be the most common form of cancer. As the name suggests, cancer initiates in the urothelial cells of the bladder. Urothelial carcinoma is further divided into two subgroups flat and papillary. Of these two types, papillary carcinoma appears to be more common. In flat urothelial carcinoma, cancer grows flat on the bladder wall. Whereas in papillary urothelial carcinoma, the tumor grows in finger-like projections. Which appears finger-like towards the center of the bladder.
Squamous cell carcinoma
This is a rare form of bladder cancer. And usually occur when the squamous cells change in shape and size after a long-standing history of a bladder infection. This was the type my father had.
This is also a rare form of bladder cancer. And occurs when epithelial cells begin to form in the bladder due to long-term irritation or infection of the bladder.
Risk factors for bladder cancer
Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for bladder cancer. Smoking is accountable for more than 50% of all cases of bladder cancer. In addition to tobacco, the other risk factors include:
A long-standing history of bladder infections
Recurrent bladder infections
Being an elderly male
Consumption of low fluids
Exposure to carcinogens
A family history of bladder cancer
Consuming a high-fat diet
Being previously treated for cancer using chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Hematuria is characterized by blood in the urine. This is usually the first sign of bladder cancer. The color of the urine can change depending on the amount of blood present. In many cases, blood may appear once, and the urine continues to be clear for weeks together. However, if the elderly have developed bladder cancer, then the blood will reappear. Therefore, the appearance of blood in the urine will not always mean that there is bladder cancer.
Pain in the pelvis
Bowel habits change yet another notable sign of bladder cancer. This includes pain or a burning sensation while urinating. Frequent urination (in this, it is the urge to urinate frequently, even if the bladder is not complete) and urinary incontinence. In many cases, the elderly may also experience trouble urinating or a weak urine stream while emptying the bladder.
The symptoms mentioned above are usually experienced in the preliminary stages. When cancer has reached more advanced settings, the elderly may experience the following symptoms:
In many cases, when the symptoms of bladder cancer first appear, cancer has spread to other body parts.
Treating bladder cancer in the elderly
Treating bladder cancer in the elderly is a real challenge, with the life expectancy rate decreasing in advanced cases. In addition, the quality of life also gets significantly compromised owing to the various treatments.
The decision to treat the patients or not treat them is tough. The quality of life should be the determining factor. Furthermore, managing high-grade cancer in the elderly is challenging and costly. In addition, statics show that elderly cancer patients fail to receive the same care as their younger counterparts. Which again becomes a matter of grave concern. While surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain the primary treatment methods.
Chemotherapy – Systemic and intravesical–is done to improve the chances of curing cancer. This happens either before the surgery or after it.
Reconstruction – Creating an altogether new pathway for urine elimination from the body.
Radiation therapy – An additional method for destroying cancer cells.
Immunotherapy – A therapy targeted at strengthening the immune system to make it capable of fighting off cancer cells.
Cancer support for the advanced stage of bladder cancer
Dealing with stage 4 bladder cancer can be overwhelming and tricky for our elderly loved ones. I know firsthand and can account for how overwhelming it can be, from getting treated for destroying the cancer cells to managing the symptoms. The entire process can become challenging to handle. Taking care of oneself is essential to handle the stress and pressure of the treatment regime. In addition, talking to friends, family, and support groups can help your loved ones feel better.
Joining a support group would ensure a sense of physical and emotional well-being. Getting a hold of a support group is not at all difficult and can be either searched online or by asking your doctors and other relatives. The best thing is to enroll in a local support group. These groups organize a get-together kind of session once or twice a month. People with the same disease can share their thoughts, apprehensions, and fears. Such activity can help our loved ones deal with cancer much more positively.
Often, these support groups also conduct teaching sessions for the patients and their family members. It helps my father and me massively. The groups teach them about the disease and various ways to cope with it.
In addition, to support groups, many National Organizations provide education about cancer and support to patients.
Examples of such organizations include the following:
Heating pads to relieve pain in the lower back or abdomen
Body pillow and wedges to help with sleeping positions
Eat five smaller meals rather than three big meals
Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
Battling bladder cancer is a very tough journey. Many elderlies refuse treatment, as their frail bodies cannot bear the side effects. For such patients, support care or palliative care becomes the best alternative. As caregivers, therefore, we need to be around our loved ones to help them deal with the disease. Also, it does not hurt to help get organized to help our loved ones feel a sense of peace. My father’s main concern was that his affairs were in order so that I did not have any problems.
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