The main cause of bladder cancer is smoking. Some other risk factors for developing the disease include a person’s age and exposure to certain chemicals.

In 2019, an estimated 712,644 people were living with bladder cancer in the United States.

This article looks at the main causes and risk factors for bladder cancer, preventing the disease, and more.

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Experts do not yet fully know the cause behind most bladder cancers. However, they do know that gene mutations play a role.

Changes in the DNA inside bladder cells can cause them to develop atypically. This can form unusual changes known as mutations.

These mutations can cause the cells to multiply uncontrollably to form a cancerous tumor.

There are two types of DNA mutations — acquired and inherited. Acquired mutations occur over a person’s lifetime, and inherited mutations result from the DNA a person receives from their biological parents.

Some behaviors, such as smoking, can increase the risk of acquired gene mutations. However, bladder cancer does not usually run in families, so inherited gene mutations are a less common cause.

Risk factors are things that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing bladder cancer. It is possible to change some risk factors, but not all of them.

Examples of risk factors that an individual cannot change include:

  • Age: About 9 out of 10 people with a bladder cancer diagnosis are over the age of 55. As individuals get older, their chances of developing bladder cancer increase.
  • Family history: Some people may inherit gene changes from their biological parents that can increase their risk of developing bladder cancer.
  • Certain gene mutations: When the body’s cells divide, they can cause unusual changes in the cells called mutations. The genes that have associations with bladder cancer are called GST and NAT.
  • Sex: Bladder cancer is three to four times more common in men than in women.

Examples of risk factors that someone can change include:

  • Smoking: Smoking or chewing tobacco causes 30% of all cancers. Smoking causes about half of all bladder cancers, with smokers being at least three times more likely to get the disease than people who do not smoke tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), quitting smoking can lower a person’s risk of developing bladder cancer and many other types of cancer.
  • Workplace exposure: Researchers associate some bladder cancer cases with exposure to chemicals involved in various industries, such as aluminum production, the rubber industry, and the leather industry. Examples of chemicals relating to bladder cancer include 4-aminobiphenyl, diesel exhausts, and benzidine.
  • Medications or supplements: Some medications and supplements have links to an increased risk of developing bladder cancer. These include the diabetes medication pioglitazone and any supplements containing aristolochic acid.

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program suggests that around 2.3% of men and women will receive a diagnosis of bladder cancer at some point during their lifetime.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in 2022, there were around 81,180 new cases of bladder cancer in the U.S., accounting for 4.2% of all new cancer diagnoses.


Of the approximately 81,180 new cases of bladder cancer in the U.S., about 61,700 cases were in men and 19,480 were in women.

The ACS estimate that a person’s overall chance to develop bladder cancer during their life is about 1 in 27 for men and about 1 in 89 for women.


Most people who receive a diagnosis of bladder cancer are between 65 and 74 years of age.

The following table shows information from the SEER program on the percentage of new cancer cases by age group.

Age group (years)New cases (%)


Smoking accounts for around 65% of disease risk in men and between 20% and 30% in women.


Researchers estimate that up to 10% of bladder cancer cases happen after exposure to carcinogens in the workplace.

Anyone with a bladder cannot fully prevent bladder cancer, but they could lower their risk of the disease with certain lifestyle choices.

Some behaviors that can help prevent bladder cancer include:

  • avoiding smoking tobacco or inhaling secondhand smoke
  • limiting chemical exposure
  • drinking more fluids, especially water
  • maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables

Additionally, regular screenings can help people with a family history of bladder cancer receive an early diagnosis, allowing them to begin treatment sooner.

Read on to learn answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about bladder cancer.

What are the main causes of bladder cancer?

Experts do not always know the exact cause of bladder cancer, but they think it is usually due to gene mutations.

However, they do know that certain behaviors and factors can increase the risk of developing this condition. These include smoking and exposure to some industrial chemicals.

Other risk factors include older age and having a family history of bladder cancer.

Is bladder cancer curable?

Doctors can sometimes cure bladder cancer if they find it in the early stages. They may be able to remove the tumor during surgery.

However, the likelihood of curing bladder cancer reduces as the stages progress. Depending on the cancer stage, medical professionals may combine surgery with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

What are the warning signs of bladder cancer?

Early symptoms of bladder cancer may include blood in the urine, painful urination, and a frequent urge to urinate.

These often have other causes, but it is best to go for a checkup if someone is experiencing these symptoms.

Learn more

Learn more about blood in the urine, a potential early sign of bladder cancer.

Experts suggest that gene mutations cause bladder cancer. These mutations can be acquired, which involves developing them over the course of a person’s life, or inherited, which involves receiving them from a person’s biological parents.

Certain behaviors, such as smoking and exposure to certain chemicals, can increase a person’s risk of developing bladder cancer.

People can change some risk factors, but not all. Some risk factors a person cannot change include their age and family history of bladder cancer.