Is Bladder Cancer Hereditary?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, you may wonder if it is hereditary and can pass down to your children. You can breathe easier knowing that, in most cases, bladder cancer is not caused by inherited or genetic factors.

Cancers happen when our body's cells undergo genetic changes that let them grow out of control and spread, taking over other organs. For a cell to become cancerous, multiple gene changes are usually needed.

Most of the time, the genetic changes that lead to bladder cancer develop during a person's lifetime and are not inherited before birth. These mutations sometimes come from exposure to radiation or chemicals, while, at other times, they are due to risk factors like tobacco use.

In some rare cases, bladder cancer develops due to inherited genetic changes passed along family lines. This article will explain how inherited mutations play a role in developing bladder cancer as one of many risk factors. 

Two friends discussing bladder cancer

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What Causes Bladder Cancer?

Risk factors are anything that impacts the likelihood that you will develop a specific condition. Having a risk factor does not mean you will develop that disease. Not having a risk factor also doesn’t mean you won’t get the disease. 

Not all risk factors are made equal—some have a more significant impact on your risk of developing a condition than others. Some you can control (like smoking), while others are out of your reach.

There are multiple risk factors and causes of bladder cancer. However, most of the time, bladder cancer isn’t genetic or heritable.

What Causes Cancer?

Cancer develops over time as our cells make mistakes copying their genes. These mistakes, called mutations, can happen any time a cell divides.

Sometimes these mutations occur in the cells that make up our organs and tissues after we’re born. They’re called acquired gene mutations.

Other times, these mutations were present in the genes in the sperm or egg that came together to form you as an individual at conception. These are inherited mutations and are found in every body cell. They can also be passed down to your children. 

Sometimes the accumulation of either or both acquired or inherited genetic mutations can lead to cancer. In many cases, bladder cancer is caused by a buildup of acquired mutations, sometimes helped along by exposures to cancer-causing chemicals that make mutations more likely. 

In other cases, an inherited mutation might play a role in the development of acquired mutations. An inherited mutation in the genes that fix mutations can lead to a buildup of acquired mutations that lead to cancer.

Inherited or acquired mutations and various other risk factors, including environmental and lifestyle exposures, work together to allow cancerous cells to grow and spread.

Bladder Cancer Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for bladder cancer that you can control or monitor. These include:

  • Smoking and other tobacco use: Toxins from tobacco enter your blood, go through your kidneys, and end up in your urine. When they sit in your bladder, they can cause mutations in the tissues, leading to cancer. Smoking increases bladder cancer risk 4 to 7 times above that of a nonsmoker. Researchers think smoking causes about half of the cases of bladder cancer.
  • Workplace exposure to chemicals: Certain chemicals used in the manufacturing of textiles, rubber, leather, dyes, paints, and printing, as well as naturally occurring chemicals, have all been linked to an increased risk of developing bladder cancer. 
  • Medications and supplements: Certain chemotherapy drugs called cyclophosphamides and a drug called Actos (pioglitazone) that treats type 2 diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer. Herbal supplements containing aristolochic acid have also been linked to increased risk of bladder and other urothelial cancers, those that form in the lining of the urinary tract.
  • Arsenic in water: Exposure to arsenic (a natural element of the earth's crust) can cause health problems and is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer. 
  • Dehydration: Not getting enough water may keep chemicals in the bladder longer during the day, increasing your exposure to them and, therefore, increasing your risk of developing bladder cancer.

Other risk factors are outside of your control. These include:

  • Race and ethnicity: White people are about twice as likely to get bladder cancer than Black or Latinx people. Asian Americans and American Indians fall somewhere in between.
  • Age: The older you get, the more acquired mutations develop in your body. More than 70% of bladder cancer patients are over 65. 
  • Sex: Being male is a risk factor for bladder cancer—men are 4 times more likely to develop this disease. But because bladder cancer is less frequently diagnosed in women, they may be diagnosed late and are more likely to die from it.
  • Chronic bladder infections and irritation: Urinary problems like bladder stones (hard masses of minerals) and infections can lead to cancer due to excessive inflammation in the bladder. Having had to use urinary catheters may also result in irritation. Bladder-related problems like these that cause inflammation and irritation can increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Personal history: Having had bladder or urinary tract cancers makes it more likely that you’ll be diagnosed with bladder cancer.
  • Bladder birth defects: Birth defects that affect the bladder or urinary tract may increase the risk of developing cancers. These include defects of the urachus (the channel between the bladder and the navel in a fetus) and exstrophy (the bladder develops outside of the body). Both are causes of bladder cancers.

Hereditary causes and risk factors for bladder cancer cause a minority of cases of bladder cancers. Experts do not think that mutations that run in families are a major cause of bladder cancer. Instead, a family history of bladder cancer is more likely due to shared behaviors or environments that increase risk.

Some research suggests inherited mutations that change how the body handles toxins and cancer-causing chemicals may increase the risk of bladder cancer. These people are more sensitive to cancer-causing chemicals like those in tobacco or industrial chemicals. Mutations in the GST and NAT genes may lead to a family history of bladder or other cancers.

There are also a few genetic syndromes that lead to an increase in your risk for bladder cancer. These include:  

  • Cowden disease is linked to breast and thyroid cancers and also increases the risk of developing bladder cancer. A mutation in the PTEN gene causes this disease.
  • Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), is primarily linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. It may also result in an increased risk of bladder cancer. Lynch syndrome is caused by mutations in genes that normally work to repair mutations, including MLHL, MSH2, MSH6, PMS2, and EPCAM.
  • A mutated retinoblastoma gene (RB1) causes eye cancer in infants and comes with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bladder cancer is diagnosed in 56,000 men and 17,500 women every year, and about 12,000 men and 4,700 women die from the disease annually.

Half of the bladder cancers are linked to smoking. Most other cases are caused by acquired genetic mutations that build up during one’s life. Inherited bladder cancer only causes a very small fraction of cases of bladder cancer every year.

If a heritable version of bladder cancer, or a genetic syndrome linked to increased risk of bladder cancer, is present in your family tree, talk to your healthcare provider about being tested for the genetic changes and how to monitor yourself for symptoms of bladder cancer. Your doctor may recommend regular screenings. 

Summary 

Bladder cancer isn’t usually hereditary. There are some genetic syndromes and mutations that increase your risk of developing bladder and other cancers, though.

Most cases of bladder cancer are not linked to family history or heritable genetic mutations but, rather, are factors you can control. Mutations that cause bladder cancer to develop usually happen over time and through exposure to risk factors like smoking or chemicals. 

A Word From Verywell

A bladder cancer diagnosis for yourself or a family member can be worrying, especially if you’ve seen another loved one battle this cancer. But keep in mind their cancer isn’t your cancer, even if you are genetically linked. 

Bladder cancer isn’t usually heritable, so often the occurrence in families is due to environmental or lifestyle factors that you can control. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried that you may be at risk for bladder cancer or passing on your cancer to others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who is most at risk of bladder cancer?

    Older males who currently smoke are at the highest risk of developing bladder cancers.

  • What is the main cause of bladder cancer?

    The most common risk factor linked to bladder cancer is tobacco use. About half of bladder cancers are linked to smoking. Smoking makes you 4 to 7 times more likely to develop bladder cancer.

  • What are the warning signs of bladder cancer?

    Early symptoms of bladder cancer include blood in the urine (which can be pink, red, or brown) and pain, burning, or irritation while urinating.

  • What is usually the first symptom of bladder cancer?

    Blood in the urine, or hematuria, is the most common first sign of bladder cancer.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. What causes bladder cancer? Updated January 30, 2019. 

  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Bladder cancer: Risk factors. Updated September 2020.

  3. American Cancer Society. Bladder cancer risk factors. Updated January 30, 2019. 

  4. Centers for Disease Control. Lynch Syndrome. Updated January 15, 2020.  

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bladder cancer. Updated October 7, 2020.

  6. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Bladder cancer: Symptoms and signs. Updated September 2020.