Health & Wellness

Marilu Henner and her husband share cancer struggle, recovery

For decades, actress Marilu Henner has been dedicated to promoting a healthier lifestyle. Henner and her husband Michael Brown visited TODAY Tuesday to talk about "Changing Normal," their new book about their relationship and his diagnosis first with bladder cancer, and then lung cancer.

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During the interview the couple discussed how they used the best of conventional medicine, immunotherapy, along with lifestyle changes to help him on his path to recovery. Henner called it a "two-pronged" approach, using traditional cancer treatments and lifestyle changes. "It really was about integrative medicine, using the best of both worlds,” the "Taxi" star Henner told Kathie Lee and Hoda.

The American Cancer Society urges patients to talk with their doctors when considering an alternative treatment. Check with your doctor about any studies on these methods and what options you might still have if the alternative treatment doesn’t work.

"Don't be afraid of a second opinion," Henner said.

What is bladder cancer?

The bladder is an organ in the pelvic region that stores urine until you’re ready to urinate. Bladder cancer begins when the cells in the lining of the bladder start to grow out of control and form a tumor. Bladder cancer accounts for about 5 percent of all new cancers in the United States. In 2016, it’s estimated there will 77,000 new cases and about 16,000 deaths.

Bladder cancer normally grows slowly and often doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. But when it does spread, it usually goes to pelvic lymph nodes or invades other nearby organs, such as the prostate in men or the uterus in women. Bladder cancer can also spread to distant areas, most commonly to the lungs.

Who gets bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer usually affects people over the age of 50, with men 3 to 4 times more likely to get it than women. Using tobacco is the most important risk factor. In fact, smokers are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as nonsmokers.

In addition to that, people working with a lot of chemicals, such as rubber and leather workers, are also more likely to get bladder cancer.

Studies have shown that long-term bladder infections can also increase the risk of bladder cancer. People who drink lots of water each day tend to have lower rates of bladder cancer. This might be because they empty their bladders more often, which could keep chemicals from lingering in the bladder.

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Symptoms

Blood in the urine is the most common symptom. Other typical symptoms include:

  • needing to urinate more frequently
  • pain while urinating

Less serious conditions like urinary tract infections and kidney stones can cause similar symptoms. So if you see blood in the urine, it’s good to see a doctor immediately to rule out bladder cancer.

Treatment options

There are basically three main treatment options for bladder cancer:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy, which is one of the most promising therapies and usually recommended for early bladder cancers. It stimulates the body’s own immune system to help remove cancerous cells. The medication goes directly inside the bladder and coats the inner lining.

The treatment depends on where the cancer is in the bladder and how far it has spread.

Are there lifestyle changes that help?

  • Stop smoking. It not only eliminates the No. 1 risk factor for bladder cancer, it will also strengthen your immune system as smoking slows the body from healing.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet. Getting lots of vegetables and fruits while avoiding refined sugars has been shown in some studies to make a difference when it comes to cancer.
  • Drink Water. There is evidence that drinking water might lower a person’s risk of bladder cancer because it eliminates toxins from the bladder

Dr. Felix Gussone and Dr. Shelly Choo of the NBC News medical unit contributed to this report

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