Bladder and kidney cancer: could you spot the signs?

Are you clear on cancer? Public Health England thinks more people need to be, so they've launched their third annual campaign on the 'red flag' for bladder and kidney cancer - and it's literally red. Their message is simple: if you notice blood in your pee, even if it's 'just the once', tell your doctor.

With all cancers, early diagnosis improves the chance of long-term successful treatment. And with bladder and kidney cancer, blood in the urine is by far the most common early symptom. Bladder cancer in particular tends to cause blood in the urine at an early stage, and getting help early means you have a much better chance of identifying cancer before it spreads. Not only does this equal more positive long-term prospects, you're likely to need much less drastic surgery or other treatment.

Blood may not be there all the time, so it's important to keep checking and to get even a single episode checked out. Of course, you won't know you have blood in your pee unless you look - so the second strand of the Public Health England is to look before you flush. Men reading this might wonder why on earth people need reminding - but just remember why women keep the loo seat down…

The urinary tract consists of two kidneys which filter body waste and make urine; two tubes called ureters which carry the urine to the bladder; the bladder, which stores urine; and the urethra, a tube the urine passes down when you pee. Men have a prostate gland at the base of the bladder, surrounding the top of the urethra. Bladder and kidney cancer are the 7th and 8th most commonly diagnosed cancers, accounting for around 17,450 diagnoses and 7,600 deaths in England each year.

Bladder, kidney and prostate gland can all develop cancer. Obviously, prostate cancer only affects men, but bladder and kidney cancer are more common in men too - men are twice as likely to get kidney cancer and three times more likely to get bladder cancer than women. All three kinds of cancer are much more common in older people, with over 90% of cases being diagnosed in over-50s. Bladder cancer is two to six times more common among smokers than non-smokers, and smoking increases the risk of the most common kind of kidney cancer.

But there are differences too. Bladder cancer is more common in white people, while far more men of Afro-Caribbean origin get prostate cancer compared to others. People who work in industries that use coke ovens have a greater chance of getting kidney cancer, while working in the rubber and dye industry used to involve handling chemicals linked with bladder cancer. Although most of these chemicals are no longer used, the effect can last for 20 years or more.

Even if you're way under 50, you should never ignore blood in your pee - these cancers may get more common with age, but they affect younger people too. After the first Public Health England campaign, there was an increase in the number of people diagnosed with these cancers at an early stage, and a drop in late-stage diagnosis of bladder cancer. While other factors may have been in play, it's possible the campaign saved up to 95 lives. So don't become a statistic - look before you flush.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.