Bladder cancer Patient friendly summary

 Illustration depicting cancer cell in the blood.
  • Ultraviolet-B (UVB) light appears to have a direct effect on reducing bladder cancer risk.
  • Vitamin D has been shown to block cancer growth and spread.
  • Vitamin D levels greater than 30-40 ng/mL (75-100 nmol/L) may reduce the risk of  bladder cancer.
Each year in the United States, bladder cancer affects about 70,000 people and kills approximately 15,000.

Risk factors

Important risk factors associated with bladder cancer include:
  • Environmental irritants: Important risk factors include smoking, specific industrial chemicals, dietary nitrates, and arsenic. Nitrates are found in processed meat products.
  • Dietary components: Certain foods are associated with increased bladder cancer risk. These include pork, barbecued meats, fat, soy, and drinking a lot of coffee.
  • Job hazards: People who work in jobs with inhaled fumes (painter or hairdresser) have a higher risk of bladder cancer.
  • Disinfected drinking water:  Chlorinated water is considered a risk factor for bladder cancer. However, there is a high risk of infectious diseases, such as cholera, when drinking water than has not been disinfected.
  • Obesity: Obesity is a weak risk factor for bladder cancer.
The risk of bladder cancer may be decreased by eating certain foods:
  • Fruits
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)
  • Carrots

Sunlight exposure and bladder cancer risk

Sunlight has a direct effect on reducing the risk of many types of cancer. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) light stimulates the body to produce vitamin D, which protects against cancer. Studies in China, Germany, and the United States have found lower rates of bladder cancer in areas with more UVB light.

Vitamin D and bladder cancer

Vitamin D levels

A study of male smokers in Finland found an increased risk of bladder cancer with lower vitamin D blood levels.

The rates of breast, colon, and rectal cancer decrease rapidly as vitamin D levels increase from less than 10 ng/mL (25 nmol/L) to 20–30 ng/mL (50–75 nmol/L). This rapid decrease slows until vitamin D levels reach about 50 ng/mL (150 nmol/L). Similar findings have not been reported for other types of cancer. However, bladder cancer may react in the same way.

How vitamin D works

Vitamin D has been shown to block the growth of cancer tumors. Calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, is produced by the body from vitamin D. Calcitriol provides numerous benefits against cancers. This form of vitamin D encourages cells to either adapt to their organ or commit apoptosis (cell suicide). Calcitriol also limits blood supply to the tumor and reduces the spread of cancer.  


High levels of vitamin D are associated with a lower risk of many types of cancer and in both observational studies on individuals and geographic studies of populations.

Based on studies of breast, colon, and rectal cancer, vitamin D levels of 30–40 ng/mL (75–100 nmol/L) may reduce the risk of cancer. Taking 1000–4000 international units (IU) (25–100 mcg)/day usually raises vitamin D levels to those amounts.

Vitamin D and calcium

It is not clear whether calcium reduces the risk of bladder cancer.


People with higher vitamin D levels at the time of cancer diagnosis often have a higher survival rate. This is true for many types of cancer. Increasing vitamin D levels after cancer diagnosis may improve chances of survival.

Some cancer treatment centers are now giving at least 5000 IU (125 mcg)/day vitamin D to patients with cancer. Outcome results have yet to be published.

Find out more...

Do you want to find out more and see the research upon which this summary is based?  Read our detailed evidence summary on bladder cancer.

Page last edited: 21 September 2011