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Bladder Cancer: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your health care provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.

Who is at risk for bladder cancer?

There are several risk factors for this type of cancer.


Smoking is the biggest risk factor for bladder cancer. People who smoke are at least 3 to 4 times more likely to get bladder cancer as those who don't.

When you smoke, cancer-causing chemicals called carcinogens damage cells in your bladder. Carcinogens from smoke enter the blood through the lungs. The kidneys filter the blood to remove these carcinogens and send them into the urine. The urine goes to the bladder, where it's stored until you urinate. This causes carcinogens to be concentrated in the urine. They can harm the cells in your bladder. Over time, these damaged cells may turn into cancer.

The younger you were when you started smoking, and the more you smoke, the higher your risk of getting cancer. Some people believe that there’s no reason to quit smoking because the damage has already been done. That's not true. Quitting greatly reduces your risk for cancer. And the longer you don't smoke, the more your risk decreases. So, it's worth the effort to do all you can to stop smoking.


White people are twice as likely to get bladder cancer as African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans.


Bladder cancer occurs much more often in men than in women.


The risk for bladder cancer goes up with age. It's rare for people younger than age 40 to get this type of cancer. Most people with bladder cancer are age 65 or older.

Chemical exposure

Exposure to certain chemicals and dyes can increase your risk for bladder cancer. Still, exposure to chemicals at work accounts for only a small percentage of bladder cancers. If you work in the dye industry or as a hairdresser or truck driver, you may have been exposed to chemicals that increase your risk for bladder cancer. This may also be true if you work with rubber, textiles, leather, paint, metalwork, or printing. Talk with your employer about risk factors involving chemicals. Make sure you follow the guidelines for working with chemicals safely. If you have questions, call:

Chronic bladder problems

Urinary system infections and kidney and bladder stones have been linked to bladder cancer.

Certain medicines and supplements

Using pioglitazone hydrochloride for more than one year has been linked to bladder cancer. This is a diabetes medicine.

Supplements containing Aristolochia fangchi (an herb is used in some weight-loss products) or aristolochic acid have been linked to bladder cancer.

History of bladder cancer

If you've had bladder cancer in the past, even if it was at an early stage, you have a higher risk of getting it again.

Past cancer treatment

Your risk for bladder cancer may be higher if you’ve had certain chemotherapy medicines or radiation directed at your pelvis.


High levels of arsenic in drinking water have been linked with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

What are your risk factors? 

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for bladder cancer and what you can do about them.



Online Medical Reviewer: Levin, Mark, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.