What is bladder cancer? Golfer John Daly's diagnosis puts disease in spotlight

It’s estimated there will be about 81,000 new cases of the disease this year and almost 18,000 deaths.
John Daly
John Daly tees off in Grand Blanc, Michigan, on July 31, 2020.Jorge Lemus / NurPhoto via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Golfer John Daly says he's staying vigilant about his health after finding out he has bladder cancer.

Doctors removed the growth in a successful procedure, but there is an 85% chance it will return, the two-time major champion was told.

"So I've got to go back and see (the doctor) in three months. They will probably have to cut it out," Daly told the Golf Channel.

"Luckily for me, they caught it early, but bladder cancer is something that I don't know all the details. But it doesn't look like it may go away. We will just see what happens. Maybe there's a miracle."

What is bladder cancer?

The bladder is an organ in the pelvic region that stores urine until you’re ready to urinate.

The most common type of bladder cancer, urothelial carcinoma, 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% all new cancers in the United States. In 2020, it’s estimated there will be about 81,000 new cases and almost 18,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

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 55, with men three to four times more likely to get it than women. Using tobacco is the most important risk factor. In fact, smokers are at least three times as likely to get bladder cancer as nonsmokers.

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

Studies have shown 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.

What are the symptoms?

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

  • needing to urinate more frequently
  • pain while urinating
  • low back pain or pelvic pain

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.

What are the 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. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved five different immunotherapy drugs for the treatment of metastatic bladder cancer since 2016. 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