Smoking and Bladder Cancer: Unveiling the Hidden Connection


In the UK, bladder cancer quietly ranks among the top ten most common cancers for both men and women. Despite its prevalence, public awareness remains dismally low, making it a low-priority issue on the public health agenda. Bladder cancer, often dubbed the ‘Cinderella’ of urological cancers, has suffered from a lack of research funding compared to other, less common, but well-publicised cancers. Consequently, there have been minimal advancements in treatments or survival rates over the past three decades.

The Power of Early Detection

Patient outcomes can drastically improve with early diagnosis, boasting an impressive 80% survival rate when caught in its infancy. Bladder cancer knows no age boundaries, and one major contributing factor to its development is smoking.

Smoking: A Leading Culprit

It’s no surprise that smoking is a leading cause of bladder cancer, accounting for nearly half of all cases. Research from the American Cancer Society reveals that smokers are at least three times more likely to develop bladder cancer compared to non-smokers. The risk escalates with the number of cigarettes smoked daily and the duration of smoking. Furthermore, smoking not only heightens the risk of developing bladder cancer but also increases the likelihood of aggressive, advanced-stage tumours.

Unveiling the Mechanism

The carcinogens found in tobacco smoke can inflict damage to the bladder’s cellular lining, triggering the development of cancer. A 2019 study discovered that smoking is responsible for approximately 65% of bladder cancer cases in males and 20–30% in females. Individuals who consume a pack or more of cigarettes daily are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer compared to those who smoke less than half a pack per day. One notorious chemical in cigarette smoke is benzene, a known carcinogen found in high concentrations. When benzene enters the bladder, it can lead to mutations in bladder cell DNA, culminating in the formation of cancerous growths.

The Aftermath of Quitting

Even after quitting smoking, the risk of bladder cancer remains elevated for several years. However, this risk gradually diminishes over time, decreasing by 25% during the first decade after smoking cessation.

Other Risk Factors

Apart from smoking, additional risk factors for bladder cancer include exposure to specific chemicals and radiation, as well as a family history of the disease.

Vaping: A New Concern

Recent studies suggest that the chemicals present in e-cigarette aerosols might increase the risk of developing bladder cancer. A review from PubMed Central uncovered associations between e-cigarette use and changes in the bladder lining, potentially elevating the risk of bladder cancer. E-cigarette users also displayed higher levels of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in their urine. Another PubMed study found that e-cigarette vapour induced bladder cancer in laboratory mice. Researchers exposed mice to e-cigarette vapour for 54 weeks, resulting in the development of tumours in their bladders. These findings are especially worrisome as more individuals transition from smoking to vaping, mistakenly believing it to be less harmful, with children as young as 12 starting to vape heavily.

Alarming Statistics

Cancer Research UK provides sobering statistics regarding bladder cancer:

  • 45% of bladder cancer cases in the UK are attributed to smoking.
  • 6% of cases stem from workplace exposures.
  • 2% result from ionising radiation.
  • Between 2016 and 2018, an average of 10,292 new bladder cancer cases were diagnosed annually in the UK.
  • The UK witnesses approximately 5,600 bladder cancer deaths each year, averaging 15 daily (2017-2019).
  • Projections suggest around 7,700 bladder cancer deaths yearly in the UK by 2038-2040.
  • Bladder cancer ranks as the 9th most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK, comprising 3% of all cancer deaths (2017-2019).
  • Between 2013 and 2017, the survival rate for bladder cancer stood at 46% for 10 or more years.
  • In 2015, it was estimated that around 49% of bladder cancer cases were preventable.
  • Bladder cancer deaths in England are more common among people residing in the most deprived areas.

The Global Menace of Smoking

Smoking, in all its forms, remains a global epidemic that has persisted for decades. It’s not just a casual puff here and there; it’s a widespread habit that impacts millions of lives worldwide. The link between smoking and bladder cancer is unequivocal. Smoking exposes the body to an onslaught of harmful chemicals, many of which are carcinogens.

A Personal Battle

Bladder cancer is more than just a statistic; it’s a life-altering diagnosis for those affected. Furthermore, the emotional toll on patients and their families cannot be underestimated. While the number of smokers has fortunately declined in recent years, the rising popularity of vaping raises concern. Educating individuals about the dangers of both smoking and vaping is crucial, as it is the key to eradicating the number one preventable cause of bladder cancer, and indeed, most other cancers.

Related Articles