Bladder Cancer: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing bladder cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing bladder cancer:

  • Tobacco use. The most common risk factor for bladder cancer is cigarette smoking, although smoking cigars and pipes can also raise the risk of developing bladder cancer. Smokers are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than nonsmokers. Learn more about tobacco’s link to cancer and how to quit smoking.

  • Age. The chances of being diagnosed with bladder cancer increases with age. More than 70% of people with bladder cancer are older than 65.

  • Gender. Men are 4 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than women, but women are more likely to die from bladder cancer than men. Also, women may experience a delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer.

  • Race. White people are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer as Black people, but Black people are twice as likely to die from the disease.

  • Chemicals. Chemicals used in the textile, rubber, leather, dye, paint, and print industries; some naturally occurring chemicals; and chemicals called aromatic amines and others can also increase the risk of bladder cancer.

  • Previous radiation therapy to the pelvis. People who have been treated for cancer with radiation therapy to the pelvis may have an increased risk of future bladder cancer.

  • Chronic bladder problems. Bladder stones and infections may increase the risk of bladder cancer. Bladder cancer may be more common for people who are paralyzed from the waist down who are required to use urinary catheters and have had many urinary infections.

  • Cyclophosphamide use. People who have had chemotherapy with cyclophosphamide have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer.

  • Pioglitazone (Actos) use. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that people who have taken the diabetes drug pioglitazone for more than 1 year may have a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. However, published studies have shown contradictory results.

  • Personal history. People who have already had bladder cancer once are more likely to develop bladder cancer again.

  • Schistosomiasis. People who have some forms of this parasitic disease are more likely to develop squamous cell bladder cancer. Schistosomiasis is found in parts of Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

  • Lynch syndrome and other genetic syndromes. People with an inherited condition called Lynch syndrome, previously called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC, or other genetic predisposition may have an increased risk of developing bladder cancer (upper and lower tract). It is important to review your family history of cancer with your doctor. 

  • Arsenic exposure. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance that can cause health problems if consumed in large amounts. When found in drinking water, it has been associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer. The chance of being exposed to arsenic depends on where you live and whether you get your water from a well or from a system that meets the standards for acceptable arsenic levels.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems bladder cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.