What is squamous cell bladder cancer and what are the symptoms?

Laura Hampson
·3 min read
Tracey Emin has been diagnosed with squamous cell bladder cancer, pictured here during London Fashion Week, February 2019 (Getty)
Tracey Emin has been diagnosed with squamous cell bladder cancer, pictured here during London Fashion Week, February 2019 (Getty)

Tracey Emin has revealed she has squamous cell bladder cancer.

The 57-year-old artist, who made a name for herself 25 years ago after plastering the names of everyone she had ever slept with on a tent, told The Sunday Times Magazine that she “hopes she will survive until Christmas”.

After doctors discovered a large tumour in her bladder, Emin had surgery that removed her bladder and much of her reproductive organs - which the doctors hoped would help get rid of the cancer.

"But it was squamous cell cancer, which means it's really rapid, really aggressive. It's known as bad cancer,” Emin told the magazine.

What is squamous cell bladder cancer?

According to Cancer Research UK, squamous cell bladder cancer is rare form of the disease.

“It is usually invasive,” the charity explains. “Squamous cells are flat cells that make up the moist, skin-like tissues lining your body organs. This type of bladder cancer develops from these cells.

“It is more common in developing countries where a worm infection called bilharzia or schistosomiasis is widespread.”

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Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head information nurse told Yahoo UK: "Bladder cancer is the 11th most common cancer in the UK, with around 10,200 new bladder cancer cases in the UK every year, that's 28 every day.

“About 1 in 20 bladder cancers are squamous cell bladder cancers, which are usually invasive, meaning that the cancer cells can spread beyond the inner lining of the bladder and into the muscle layer unless treated promptly.”

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What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

“Blood in the urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer,” explained Ledwick. “The blood may not be there all the time, it can come and go.

“Other symptoms of bladder cancer can include: passing urine very often/suddenly, pain or a burning sensation when passing urine, weight loss, pain in your back, lower tummy or bones, or feeling tired and unwell.

“If you ever see blood in your urine, or notice something that doesn't feel right, we encourage you to see your doctor.”

These symptoms don’t always mean cancer, and are likely to be caused by other conditions like a urine infection. But if you do have any of these symptoms, be sure to book an appointment with your doctor straight away.

Many GPs are offering online consultations if you happen to be self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

What are the risks and causes of bladder cancer?

Emin said she suffered from kidney reflux five years ago which had “blown her bladder out”. She has had to self-catheterise since then but noticed a different kind of pain. "I thought, no, this is not right. This is all really wrong,” she added.

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Using a catheter for a long period of time has been linked to an increased risk in bladder cancer, Cancer Research UK says, especially for those under 60 years old.

Other things that have been linked to bladder cancer include smoking, bladder infections, being around chemicals at work, a previous diagnosis of bladder cancer, a family history of bladder cancer and being overweight.

How can you treat bladder cancer?

The NHS says in cases of non-invasive bladder cancer, it is usually possible to remove the cells while leaving the rest of the bladder intact. Chemotherapy is also generally required to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

Treatment for invasive bladder cancer depends on how far the cancer has spread and will usually include surgery to remove the bladder as well as radiotherapy.

For more information on squamous cell bladder cancer, please head to cancerresearchuk.org

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