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The Link Between Smoking and Bladder Cancer

Puffing on cigarettes is the leading cause of bladder cancer

Healthcare provider and patient talking in exam room

It’s not hard to understand the connection between smoking and lung cancer. With each puff on a cigarette, inhaled smoke carries toxic particles deep into your airways and lungs. You can see it happening.


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But smoking also is the leading cause of bladder cancer, which doesn’t seem like an expected relationship given body geography. So, what exactly is the link between cigarettes and a disease south of your belt?

Let’s find out from urologist Robert Abouassaly, MD.

How smoking causes bladder cancer

Talk about the dangerous effects of tobacco typically focuses on the harm caused when toxins enter your body, says Dr. Abouassaly. But those toxins cause damage on the way out of your body, too.

That brings us to your urinary system and bladder.

Your urinary system — which includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra ­— serves as a filtration unit for your body. Its primary duty is to remove toxins and other unnecessary stuff from inside of you.

You eventually get rid of this waste when you pee. But until nature calls, it sits in your bladder. So, if you smoke, carcinogens from cigarettes end up spending a lot of time in that holding tank.

“The bladder can be exposed to very high concentrations of toxins from cigarette smoke for many hours at a time,” explains Dr. Abouassaly.

The result is alarmingly high rates of bladder cancer among smokers.

Bladder cancer risk from smoking

Research shows that smoking accounts for approximately 50% to 65% of new bladder cancer cases. (To put that in perspective, that’s a diagnosis for between 286,000 and 372,000 people yearly.)

Other statistics to consider:

  • Current smokers are four times more likely to develop bladder cancer than someone who has never lit up a cigarette. (That’s higher than previously thought.)
  • Former smokers are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer.

Increased risk for women

More men and people assigned male at birth than women and people assigned female at birth are diagnosed with bladder cancer, but the gap is closing. Dr. Abouassaly attributes this to increases in smoking rates among women, particularly younger women.

Studies show smoking is now connected to 50% of bladder cancer cases in women. Previously, it was about 28%.

Signs of bladder cancer

Bladder cancer is highly curable, particularly if it’s detected quickly. That means paying attention to possible early signs of bladder cancer. Symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored include:

  • Blood in your urine.
  • Recurrent bladder infections.
  • Frequent or burning urination.


“Many times people delay seeing a doctor,” states Dr. Abouassaly. “Unfortunately, in some cases, by then, it’s too late for anything to be done.”

How to reduce bladder cancer risk

If you light up cigarettes regularly right now, there’s a simple way to guard against getting bladder cancer in the future: Stop smoking.

Kicking the habit can reduce your risk of bladder cancer by 25% within a decade, researchers say. Your risk level will continue to drop the longer you go without puffing on another cigarette, too.

“Efforts toward smoking cessation are really critical to try to prevent this disease,” reinforces Dr. Abouassaly.

Is it easy to snuff out a smoking habit? No. The nicotine in tobacco makes smoking highly addictive. Studies show that many people try quitting 30 or more times before they finally succeed.

But quitting can be done with a plan, a strong support system and a desire to be healthier. Talk to a healthcare provider about your options for a smoking cessation program. There also are online services to quit smoking.

If you need more incentive other than reduced bladder cancer risk, learn more about the additional health benefits you’ll enjoy once you go cigarette-free.


Learn more about our editorial process.

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