The bladder is a very underappreciated organ. We’re usually only aware of it when we really need to go or if there is something wrong. If you’ve just been diagnosed with a condition such as bladder cancer then you may want to learn a little more about this hardworking organ. It will help you to understand more about what your doctor tells you and some of the terms that you may hear during your treatment.
Our bladders play an essential role in removing waste products from our bodies. The bladder has to collect and store the urine and then release it when we are ready. Although urine is largely composed of water, it also contains urea, a waste product that is the result of the digestion or breakdown or proteins. Urea could be harmful to our bodies if too much of it builds up. Other potentially toxic chemicals can also be stored in the bladder and then expelled from the body in the urine. For example, many of the chemicals that are breathed in when smoking will be collected in the bladder, which is why tobacco is a major risk factor for bladder cancer.
What Does the Bladder Look Like?
The bladder is one of the simplest organs in the body. You can think of it as a balloon that sits inside your pelvis. The bladder lining prevents water or other materials in the urine from escaping. It is surrounded by a layer of muscle that will squeeze the urine out when you are ready to go. When he bladder is empty, it is usually about the size of a pear. However, the muscular walls can stretch so the bladder can hold up to about 600ml of urine.
Urine enters the bladder through two small tubes called the ureters that come from the kidneys, where waste material and water is removed from the bloodstream to make urine. At the base of the bladder are two rings or sphincters of muscle, which surround a tube called the urethra. The urethra leads out of the body. The sphincters act as valves to prevent urine from leaking out of the bladder. When you are ready to urinate, the sphincter muscles will relax to open the urethra.
What Happens When You Have Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer happens when some of the cells in the bladder grow abnormally. The cells divide more than they should, creating a tumour. As the tumour grows larger, it can affect bladder function. Eventually, the cancer cells can also spread to other parts of your body.
If you’re diagnosed with bladder cancer, you may hear the following terms:
- Non-invasive bladder cancer, when only the inner lining of the bladder is affected
- Invasive bladder cancer, when it has spread from the lining into the muscle wall or to nearby areas
- Intravesical therapy, when immunotherapy or chemotherapy agents are put into the bladder. The bladder will keep the drugs contained, just like the other toxins it collects, which can enable them to work on the bladder cells without affecting other parts of your body.