Most of the time, risk factors for cancer are outside of your control – age, genetics, hormones. But when it comes to bladder cancer, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

New cases and deaths have dropped nationally thanks to a greater understanding of risk factors and lifestyle changes to prevent bladder cancer, says Anoop Meraney, MD, director of urologic oncology for Hartford HealthCare’s Cancer Institute.

“But there were still more than 16,000 related deaths last year, affecting many more men than women,” Dr. Meraney says.

Dr. Meraney offers insight into the major risk factors for bladder cancer you should know.

Interested in connecting with a cancer specialist?

Start hereCall 833.238.0684

Skip the cigarettes

First and foremost – quit smoking.

“Smoking is the risk factor you can control completely, and stopping automatically lowers your risk of developing bladder cancer,” says Dr. Meraney.

People who smoke are three times more likely to get bladder cancer and the habit is responsible for about half the cases.

Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

Control your environment

More difficult to control – but still possible – is the environment around you. Environmental factors like hemical exposure or arsenic levels in drinking water cause bladder cancer, Dr. Meraney cautions.

“Chemicals called aromatic amines, such as benzidine and beta-naphthylamine, are a major risk,” he notes.

This is bad news for workers in a few professions, who encounter these chemicals on a daily basis:

  • Makers of rubber, leather, textiles and paint products
  • Printers
  • Painters
  • Machinists
  • Hairdressers

If you work in one of these professions, be sure to wear proper protective equipment and follow workplace safety guidelines to reduce your exposure.

> Related: 8 Things You Think Cause Cancer But Don’t

Beyond your control

But, there are still other risk factors for bladder cancer that are beyond your control, Dr. Meraney warns. These include:

  • Age – about nine out of 10 people with bladder cancer are over 55.
  • Having chronic bladder infections or using catheters regularly for long periods.
  • Certain medications or medical treatments.
  • Parasitic infections, typically obtained outside of the U.S.
  • Some genetic conditions.

Recognize the signs

The main symptom of bladder cancer is blood in your urine, Dr. Meraney says. At your annual physical, your primary care provider can check for blood through urinalysis.

“Early detection is key. Bladder cancer is more successfully treated the earlier it is detected,” he says.