Seeing Red

Let’s talk below the belt, let’s talk bladder cancer

By Jason Santerre

When it comes to cancer, Dale Boidman knows a thing or two. Not only did she battle breast cancer twice, but her husband had to fight through muscle-invasive bladder cancer. Mrs. Boidman says her husband’s plight perfectly illustrates one of the many differences between the sexes: Women are more open when it comes to health matters. Men? Not so much.

“Men rarely talk about their health, and they certainly don’t like to talk about anything below the waist,” says the former nurse and current director of the Montreal chapter of Bladder Cancer Canada (BCC). “For men to learn that it’s okay to talk about it can only help. Silence doesn’t help anybody.”

Like any cancer, early detection is key. Dr. Wassim Kassouf, a urologic oncologist and an attending surgeon at the MUHC, says the most common indicator of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. “If you see blood, seek medical advice. Don’t wait,” says Dr. Kassouf. “You might only get one episode and then wait a whole year for another occurrence. Sometimes it can be a combination of signs: a burning sensation, frequency, and urgency.”

About 75 percent of bladder cancer patients present a low-grade disease. The other 25 percent present a muscle-invasive bladder cancer, which has a mortality rate of 40 percent in the first five years. According to BCC, bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Canada and the fourth most common among men.

Moreover, due to an 80 percent rate of recurrence, bladder cancer is the most expensive cancer to treat on a per-patient basis. And yet research funding lags behind almost every other cancer. “The lack of public awareness, patient advocacy, and decreasing research activity has limited progress in bladder cancer management,” says Dr. Kassouf, a founding member of BCC.

Mrs. Boidman says that’s all starting to change. For one, there’s an annual walk for bladder cancer awareness every September. The 2016 Montreal walk raised $75,000. Another bit of optimism is the fact there is a new line of drugs designed to target the immune system. The drugs were recently approved in the U.S. and should be available in Canada soon, says Dr. Kassouf.

Best of all, everyone has the ability to lower their risk of bladder cancer with minor lifestyle changes. “Smoking is the number one risk factor,” says Dr. Kassouf. “Most of the carcinogens in the smoke get excreted through the urine, which of course comes into contact with the bladder. Cutting back on cigarettes is good, but quitting is even better.”

To find out more about bladder cancer and what you can do to help raise awareness and funds for research and patient support, visit


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