Skip to nav Skip to content
Nurse reviewing papers with bladder cancer patient

The causes of bladder cancer are not fully understood. Researchers have determined that the cancer often develops in the cells that line the bladder, which are known as transitional cells. For unknown reasons, changes occur in the DNA of these cells, which influences how the cells grow, divide and die. If the transitional cells grow uncontrollably or remain beyond their normal lifetimes, the resulting buildup of excess cells can form a cancerous mass, or tumor. Left untreated, the cancer can sometimes penetrate the bladder muscle and spread to adjacent tissue, and potentially metastasize to the bones or distant organs like the lungs and liver.

What causes bladder cancer?

While bladder cancer has not been definitively linked to genetic DNA mutations that run in families, scientists believe that some individuals may inherit a reduced ability to break down and eradicate certain cancer-causing toxins, making them more susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of these substances.

Bladder cancer risk factors

Bladder cancer risk factors are specific traits—either genetic or acquired—that can make one person more likely to develop the condition than another person. That’s not to say that these traits are an absolute predictor of whether or not an individual will develop bladder cancer during his or her lifetime, but they are a useful way to identify people who should be especially vigilant about their health.

Bladder cancer risk factors you can change

Some risk factors for bladder cancer are related to habits or situations that can be avoided. For example, some of the risk factors that you have control over include:

  • Smoking – People who use tobacco products are at least three times as likely to develop bladder cancer as people who do not.
  • Occupational or environmental exposures – People who have a prolonged history of high-dose exposure to certain potent chemicals (e.g. benzidine), or substances like rubber, hairdressing supplies or certain dyes and textiles, have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer risk factors you can’t change

However, some risk factors are outside of your control. Again, having some or all of these risk factors does not guarantee that you will develop bladder cancer, but it’s a good idea to pay close attention to any potential signs and symptoms of bladder cancer and seek prompt medical attention if you notice anything unusual. Examples of risk factors that you can’t control include:

  • Being a male over the age of 55 – Older men make up the majority of people with bladder cancer.
  • Having a history of chronic bladder irritation – People who have experienced multiple urinary infections, kidney and bladder stones or prior urothelial cancers are at a higher risk for bladder cancer.
  • Having certain genetic factors or inherited birth defects – People who are born with specific cellular mutations, genetic syndromes or bladder defects may be more likely to develop bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer prevention

There is no guaranteed way to prevent bladder cancer, although you can minimize your chances of developing the disease by avoiding the controllable risk factors listed above, drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.

Get the bladder cancer help you need at Moffitt Cancer Center

Research regarding bladder cancer causes is ongoing, and scientists are continuing to understand more about the DNA changes that occur in healthy transitional cells that cause them to become cancerous. Moffitt Cancer Center’s Genitourinary Oncology Program is dedicated to researching the risk factors for bladder cancer and other urinary tract malignancies. 

As the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, we offer our patients the latest options in bladder cancer treatment, including access to robust clinical trials. Through these promising studies, we are continually improving bladder cancer treatments, allowing us to enhance survival rates and enrich our patients’ quality of life. To learn more about causes and risk factors for bladder cancer or to seek treatment, call Moffitt Cancer Center at 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.


Can Bladder Cancer Be Prevented?

Bladder Cancer | CDC