Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Causes, risk factors and prevention

What causes bladder cancer?

While the exact causes of bladder cancer are not known, there are well-established risk factors for developing the disease. Risk factors for bladder cancer include the following:

  • Cigarette smoking – a major risk factor for developing bladder cancer. Smoking causes about half of the deaths from bladder cancer among men, and over one-third of bladder cancer deaths in women. The disease occurs in smokers twice as often as nonsmokers. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of bladder cancer, as well as several other types of cancer and diseases.
  • Occupational exposure – certain occupations and work environments that expose workers to dyes and some organic chemicals appear to increase the risk for bladder cancer. Workers in the rubber, chemical, leather, textile, metal and printing industries are exposed to substances such as aniline dye and aromatic amines that may increase their risk for bladder cancer. Other at-risk occupations include hairdressers, machinists, painters and truck drivers.
  • Chronic bladder irritation (or bladder stones) – may be linked to certain types of bladder cancer.
  • Age – the risk for bladder cancer increases with age. Bladder cancer is rare in individuals under age 40.
  • Gender – bladder cancer occurs about three to four times more often in men than in women.
  • Race – Caucasians are one-and-a-half times more likely to develop bladder cancer than African Americans and Hispanics. Asians have the lowest bladder cancer rates.
  • Personal history of bladder cancer – individuals who have previously had bladder cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease again.
  • Family history – individuals with family members who have had bladder cancer are more likely to develop the disease. Research is ongoing to determine specific genetic risks for bladder cancer.
  • Parasite infections – infection with certain parasites found in tropical regions of the world, but not in the U.S., increases the risk of bladder cancer.