Q. I just read the Spin 2.0 blog that said U.K. singing sensation, actress and paraplegic Kerry McGregor died of bladder cancer. Over the years of reading New Mobility, it seems quite a few people with spinal cord injuries have succumbed to this disease, including former NM editor Barry Corbet and Paralympian and motivational speaker Skip Wilkins. As a T4 complete para, it has be a bit concerned.

The other day I was discussing this with a friend who is also a para. He said he had done a Google search and come across several articles that say people with SCI have a much higher risk of getting bladder cancer than the general population. One study says the risk is 28 times higher.

Does having a spinal cord injury put me at higher risk for bladder cancer? What are the signs or symptoms of bladder cancer? Is there anything I can do to reduce my chances of getting it?


A. John, your questions are timely and important. I’ve received quite a few questions about bladder cancer since Kerry McGregor died — a fitting tribute, as McGregor had become an ambassador for Action on Bladder Cancer, an organization in the U.K. that raises bladder cancer awareness and supports research.

Studies do show that the incidence of bladder cancer is higher in people with SCI than in the general population. It occurs in less than 1 percent of the general population but in about 3 percent of SCI survivors, according to Craig Hospital’s Bladder Cancer web page. The research puts this into perspective, however, noting that the incidence of bladder cancer is still low compared to other SCI complications like pressure sores and kidney failure. And illnesses like heart and respiratory disease result in many more deaths in people with SCI than bladder cancer.

That said, when bladder cancer does occur in people with SCI, it often occurs at an earlier age than in the general population. Bladder Cancer and SCI from from National Rehabilitation Hospital explains that while bladder cancer in the general population is usually associated with people older than 60, it tends to strike people with SCI as early as their 40s and 50s if they’ve had a spinal cord injury for 10 or more years. McGregor was 35 years old and 22 years pos