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Medical Marijuana and Cancer, Bladder

Medical marijuana for bladder cancer

If your oncologist has diagnosed you with bladder cancer, you’ll want to know about the many treatment options available. Bladder cancer occurs when cells in your urinary bladder begin to grow uncontrollably. Also called bladder carcinoma, bladder cancer typically occurs in older individuals. Seeing blood in your urine is often the first sign of bladder cancer.

Read on to learn more about cancer and how medical marijuana for bladder cancer can help alleviate your symptoms.

What Is Bladder Cancer?

Your bladder is an organ in your pelvis that contains muscular, flexible walls. Its primary function is to store urine before it leaves your body. Your kidneys make urine that flows through tubes called ureters to your bladder.

When you urinate, your bladder muscles contract and urine leaves your bladder through the urethra. As cancerous cells develop, they can form a tumor. They can also spread to other areas of your body.

The majority of bladder cancers begin in the transitional epithelium, or urothelium, the innermost lining of your bladder. If your cancer grows into the other layers of your bladder wall, it can become more advanced and harder to treat.

Given time, cancer can spread to the bladder and into nearby structures. It could grow in your lymph nodes or to other body parts, such as the liver, bones or lymph nodes.

Types of Bladder Cancer

Several types of cancer begin in the bladder. These include the following.

Urothelial Carcinoma, or Transitional Cell Carcinoma

Urothelial carcinoma, also known as transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), represents the most common type of bladder cancer. TCC begins in the urothelial cells on the inside of your bladder. You’ll find urothelial in other areas of your urinary tract, including in the part of the kidney that connects to your ureter, or renal pelvis, the urethra and the ureters.

Transitional cell carcinoma

People with bladder cancer can sometimes have other tumors in these areas. Therefore, your doctor must check your entire urinary tract for tumors.

Invasive and Non-Invasive Cancers

Bladder cancers are usually described based on how far into the wall of the bladder they’ve invaded. There are two types:

  • Invasive cancers. These have grown into the deeper layers of your bladder wall. These types of cancer are more likely to spread.
  • Non-invasive cancers. These are in the inner layer of cells and have yet to grow into the deeper layers of your bladder.

Bladder cancers are either non-muscle invasive or superficial. Your doctor uses these terms to describe both invasive and non-invasive tumors that haven’t grown into the primary layer of bladder muscle.

Flat Cancer and Papillary Cancer

Flat cancers don’t grow toward the hollow part of the bladder. If a flat tumor is only within the inner bladder cell layer, it’s known as non-invasive flat carcinoma or a flat carcinoma in situ (CIS).

Papillary carcinomas grow in finger-like, slender projections from the inner surface of your bladder toward the hollow center. Papillary tumors tend to grow toward the middle of your bladder and don’t tend to reach into the deeper bladder layers. These types of tumor are named non-invasive papillary cancers.

Slow growing, low grade non-invasive papillary cancer is also known as papillary urothelial neoplasm of low-malignant potential (PUNLMP). This type of cancer has a positive outlook for recovery. When a flat or papillary tumor grows into the deeper layers of your bladder, it’s known as an invasive urothelial (or transitional cell) carcinoma.

Other Cancers That Begin in the Bladder

There are several other less-common kinds of cancer that can originate in your bladder. These are:

History of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer has a long history. Let’s take a look at the bladder cancer timeline as provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

  • 1879: A tool allows doctors to see inside the bladder for the first ever time.
  • 1940: A new test called urine cytology detects bladder cancer in urine.
  • 1956: Early bladder surgery begins.
  • 1960: Researchers identify early-stage bladder cancer carcinoma in situ, (CIS) or non-invasive flat urothelial carcinoma.
  • 1974: Smoking cigarettes linked to bladder cancer risk. Warning labels appear on cigarette packs.
  • 1976: New immunotherapy treatment Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) activates the immune system against aggressive bladder cancers.
  • 1978: FDA approves the chemotherapy drug cisplatin for bladder cancer.
  • 1980: Mitomycin chemotherapy decreases the risk of bladder cancer returning.
  • 1980: Reconstructive bladder surgery offers patients a better quality of life.
  • 1984: Surgical advances improve survival rates. MVAC is a multi-drug chemotherapy approach that researchers find superior to single-drug chemotherapy.
  • 1985: Researchers discovered the first successful combination chemotherapy for advanced bladder cancer.
  • 1987: New surgical technique enables more males with bladder cancer continue having sex.
  • 1997: New radiation and cisplatin chemotherapy combination therapy offers an alternative to surgery in advanced stages of the illness.

Effects of Bladder Cancer

You may suffer from the following physical and emotional effects if you have bladder cancer:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Blood in urine, also called hematuria
  • Painful urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Back pain

You may feel tired, anxious and depressed due to your illness. You may also stop going places due to needing to use the bathroom regularly. You could also feel embarrassed. You may not have the get-up-and-go you used to.

Keep in mind the above can be symptoms of various illnesses. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to see a physician.

Bladder Cancer Statistics

The American Cancer Society estimates the following statistics for bladder cancer in the U.S. for 2017:

  • Approximately 79,030 new cases of bladder cancer — 60,490 in males and 18,540 in females.
  • Approximately 16,870 deaths from the disease — 12,240 in males and 4,630 in females.
  • Bladder cancer is the fourth-most-common cancer in men. It’s less prolific in women.
  • Bladder cancer is responsible for around five percent of all newly diagnosed cancers in the U.S.
  • Around 90 percent people with bladder cancer are over 55.
  • The average age at diagnosis is 73.

Bladder cancer statistics

ACS states new diagnoses of bladder cancers have shown a slight drop in females in recent years. In males, incidence rates have also decreased.

Current Treatments Available for Bladder Cancer and Their Side Effects

The treatment you receive depends on various factors, including the stage of cancer you have, your general health and more. Treatment options include the following.

Surgery and Bladder Cancer

Surgery is part of the treatment for many bladder cancers. The type of surgery you need depends on the stage of your cancer.

Transurethral Resection of Bladder Tumor With Bladder Cancer

Surgeons use the procedure known as a transurethral resection to ascertain whether a person has bladder cancer. Doctors can also find out if the disease has invaded the layer of muscle of the bladder wall.

Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) is the most common treatment for superficial (non-muscle invasive) or early-stage bladder cancers.

The side effects of the procedure are usually short-lived and mild. You may have pain and bleeding upon urination. In some cases, you may feel the urge to urinate more frequently, or you could become incontinent.

If you have recurring non-invasive low-grade tumors, your surgeon may burn these away during your cystoscopy in the doctor’s office. This procedure can be slightly uncomfortable.

Cystectomy and Bladder Cancer

Your surgeon removes part or all of the bladder through a procedure known as cystectomy. If the surgeon removes part of your bladder, the remaining section won’t hold the volume of urine it used to. As a result, you’ll feel the urge to go to the bathroom more regularly. Also, cancer could potentially recur in a different part of the bladder wall.

If you have a full bladder removal or radical cystectomy, you’re given a general anesthetic and need to stay in the hospital for around a week afterward. It’s crucial the surgeon performing your operation has experience treating bladder cancer. If surgery isn't successful, the cancer could return.

If your surgeon removes your entire bladder, you need reconstructive surgery to store and remove urine from your body.

Cystectomy carries many of the risks of any major surgery. These include:

  • Bleeding
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Infection
  • Nearby organ damage
  • Blood clots
  • Pain

You could also experience sexual dysfunction. If you need to wear a urostomy bag, you run the risk of:

  • Pouch stones
  • Infections
  • Blockage of urine flow
  • Urine leaks

Intravesical Therapy and Bladder Cancer

The doctor puts a liquid drug directly into your bladder via a catheter in intravesical therapy. There are two distinct types of intravesical therapy:

  • Intravesical Chemotherapy. Chemo drugs such as mitomycin, gemcitabine, thiotepa, valrubicin and docetaxel go directly into your bladder. The main side effects of the treatment are a burning feeling in the bladder and irritation.
  • Intravesical Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves causing your immune system to attack the cancer cells. Bacillus Calmette-Guérin therapy (BCG) is a germ that is related to TB but doesn’t typically cause severe disease. You may experience side effects like fatigue, chills, fever and a burning feeling in your bladder. In rare cases, BCG can cause serious infection throughout your body.

Chemotherapy bladder cancer

Chemotherapy and Bladder Cancer

Chemotherapy drugs attack cells that divide quickly. Hence, the treatment works against cancer cells. It also attacks other cells in the body that divide rapidly — the bone marrow that creates new blood cells, hair follicles, and the lining of your intestines and mouth. Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased risk of infection due to a shortage of white blood cells
  • Fatigue due to a scarcity of red blood cells

Radiation Therapy and Bladder Cancer

Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It’s often combined with chemo to make the radiation more effective. Side effects of radiation can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin changes, such as blistering, redness and peeling
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Bladder symptoms, such as pain or burning during urination, blood in the urine or needing to go more often
  • Low blood counts leading to increased infection risk, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding

These symptoms usually go away afterward. Some people go on to develop long-term problems after radiation therapy, like:

  • Radiation cystitis: You have long-term blood in the urine or painful urination.
  • Incontinence: You have problems holding in urine.

Immunotherapy and Bladder Cancer

Immunotherapy involves the use of medicine to help your immune system pinpoint and destroy cancer cells.

Intravesical BCG and Bladder Cancer

Intravesical BCG can treat some early-stage cancers. The treatment activates immune system cells in your bladder. These then attack cancer cells.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors and Bladder Cancer

Your immune system works with checkpoints. These are molecules on immune cells that need to either be on or off to start an immune response. There are exciting new drugs on the market that target these checkpoints. Some can slow tumor growth or even shrink tumors. Common side effects are:

  • Constipation
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Appetite loss
  • Urinary tract infections

Occasionally, the immune system may begin to attack other parts of your body. If you experience any worrying side effects, speak with your doctor.

How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Bladder Cancer

Smoking cannabis correlates with lower rates of bladder cancer. In 2015, the journal Urology published the results of a study named that found pot smokers were 45 percent less likely to have a bladder cancer diagnosis than people who didn't smoke. There are also anecdotal accounts of individuals who have found relief treating themselves with medical cannabis for bladder cancer.

What Symptoms of Bladder Cancer Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Medical marijuana for bladder cancer can help elevate your mood and is also successful in treating pain and sleeplessness. Cannabis can also help with nausea and lack of appetite experienced when you have chemotherapy.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Bladder Cancer

There’s no cookie cutter approach when it comes to treating the symptoms of bladder cancer and its treatment side effects. What works well for a friend may not necessarily work for you. You may need to experiment before you find the right strain that suits you. The following strains of medical pot could help.

Mood and Bladder Cancer

Chronic illness gets you down. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, these three strains might help:

  • Pennywise. This indica hybrid is suitable for daytime use. It calms you rather than making you feel sleepy.
  • Blue Dream. A hybrid strain that’s both smooth and enjoyable, Blue Dream is another strain that’s safe for daytime use. It provides you with a creative vibe that's great for working through mental blocks.
  • Granddaddy Purple. Medical pot users with depression popularly use Granddaddy Purple. You take this indica strain at night.

Blue dream mood medical marijuana

Pain and Bladder Cancer

For excellent pain relief, try these three strains:

  • SuperBud. An indica, SuperBud has almost narcotic-level pain-relieving effects.
  • Jack Herer. Jack Herer is a hybrid strain that provides you with an energized and uplifted effect. It’s also filled with natural painkillers and has anti-tumor effects.
  • One-To-One. One-to-One is a hybrid that brings you blissful, pain-free relaxation. It’s also helpful for treating stress and insomnia, so is a good all-round strain.

Insomnia and Bladder Cancer

Sleep disturbances are only natural when your oncologist informs you that you have bladder cancer. If you need to get more sleep, these heavy indica strains could help:

  • Sensi Star. When you initially take this strain, you feel euphoric and relaxed. Gradually your muscle tension ebbs away, leaving you to fall into a blissful sleep.
  • Northern Lights. Northern Lights is for you if your sleep problems are due to medications, depression, anxiety or pain. This indica-dominant hybrid is good to take an hour or so before bed.
  • Purple Urkle. Purple Urkle is an indica-dominant hybrid that makes you feel hungry and tired, too.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Bladder Cancer Symptoms

You can take cannabis for bladder cancer in various ways. These include:

Learn More About Cannabis and Bladder Cancer

The most important part of the medical marijuana experience is researching to improve your knowledge. Marijuana Doctors is your one-stop source for medical cannabis information, offering you numerous educational and research resources. Getting started with the medical marijuana process for bladder cancer requires basic knowledge about your local resources and state laws.

We encourage you to read more about the cannabis laws in your state, the dispensaries providing patients like you with quality cannabis products and the specially trained marijuana doctors in your location.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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