Locations:
Search IconSearch

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.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

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.

Advertisement

“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.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Health Library
Smoking

Related Articles

people vaping and holding vap devices
Does Vaping Cause Lung Cancer?

Vaping exposes you to thousands of chemicals, including many that cause cancer and lung disease

close up of arm with nicotine patch on it
January 3, 2024/Lung
How (and Why) to Quit Dipping for Good

Nicotine replacement products and relaxation techniques can help you ditch the dip

lit cigarette floating in black background
January 2, 2024/Lung
WARNING: Even Light Smoking Affects Respiratory Health

Even only a couple cigarettes a day can lead to potentially deadly lung diseases like COPD and emphysema

various New Year's resolutions written in date planner, with weights and chocolate in foreground
December 28, 2023/Primary Care
8 Common New Year’s Resolutions and How To Keep Them

Whether you’re trying to work out more, drink less or manage stress, we can help set you up for success

Pregnanct person breaking cigarette
August 29, 2023/Pregnancy & Childbirth
What Happens if You Smoke While Pregnant?

Just a single cigarette a day can have serious health consequences

ash tray with lit cigarette
Can Smoking Cause Diabetes?

Cigarettes increase your risk of developing the condition and worsening its effects

Group exercise class at gym.
April 26, 2023/Heart Health
How To Improve Blood Circulation

Blood flow can benefit from leg elevation and even low-impact exercise, like walking

Scissors cutting a lit cigarette.
February 13, 2023/Lung
What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking?

Health benefits start within 20 minutes and continue to grow for years after

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad