Tracey Emin praised for frank disclosure of bladder cancer

Aamna Mohdin
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Hannah Young/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Hannah Young/REX/Shutterstock

Cancer charities have praised Tracey Emin for raising awareness of bladder cancer in a frank and honest interview in which she revealed she was in remission after undergoing surgery this summer.

Emin, who was nominated for the Turner prize in 1999 and is one of the most famous artists of her generation, said in an interview with Artnet that she had been diagnosed in the spring and had surgery two months ago.

In an interview with The Times, Emin said: “It was squamous cell cancer, which means it’s really rapid, really aggressive. It’s known as bad cancer.” Her doctors told her they had to act fast and remove her bladder, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, part of her colon, urethra and part of her vagina.

A team of 12 surgeons operated on Emin for six and a half hours. “I managed to keep all of my clitoris. Not that it’s working. But they had to cut away a whole side of the vaginal wall and sew it back together, so it’s really, really sealed,” she said. She will now undergo a series of therapies and dilation.

Bladder cancer is the tenth most common cancer in the UK, according to Action Bladder Cancer UK. Around 50% of those diagnosed, or more than 5,200 people a year in the UK, die of the disease, often because it is diagnosed late.

The artist has been commended for being open about her harrowing experience with a common form of cancer that is not often spoken about.

Louise, a 42-year-old painter who was diagnosed with carcinoma in situ of the bladder in 2013, said: “I really appreciate Tracey’s announcement. It will help to increase awareness of understanding of bladder cancer as a disease that affects women too. It is most commonly known as a disease that affects old men or heavy smokers. Women who suffer from frequent urine infections are often fobbed off and just given antibiotics, whereas men’s ‘waterworks’ problems are taken more seriously.”

Caroline Raw, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer four years ago, said: “My symptoms were initially misdiagnosed as ‘women’s problems’. There are very few treatment options available for bladder cancer patients and my bladder cancer was non-muscle invasive, but it was high risk so I therefore elected to have a cystectomy, meaning my bladder was removed and I now live with a stoma. This is life changing surgery.”

Raw, who is a spokesperson for Action Bladder Cancer UK, added: “Women are often diagnosed late and so therefore the treatments can be more severe. This is why it is important to raise awareness to enable earlier detection for both patients and primary care doctors. Not everyone with bladder cancer has all the risk factors, some of which are smoking, working with chemicals, being male and advanced age. I had none of these risk factors. It is therefore very important that women don’t overlook any symptoms however slight or infrequent that they may be.”

Dany Bell, a strategic adviser at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We commend Tracey Emin for sharing her story in such an open and honest way. Cancer diagnosis and treatment can be a very lonely experience, and many people find comfort in hearing from others who have been through something similar.”

Bell said anyone seeking help could turn to Macmillan’s helpline. “Speaking openly about cancer can also play a vital role in encouraging people to get any symptoms checked, and anybody who is worried about cancer should visit their GP as a matter of urgency. Don’t put it off, and don’t think you’re not a priority during the pandemic.”

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: “Raising awareness of bladder cancer is incredibly important as we know that detecting and diagnosing cancer earlier means it’s often easier to treat, offering the single biggest opportunity to save more lives.

“In the UK there are around 28 new cases of bladder cancer every day and around one in 20 are squamous cell bladder cancers, which are usually invasive. This means that unless treated early the cancer cells can spread beyond the inner lining of the bladder and into the muscle layer, and more intensive treatment may be required.

“We urge anyone who has noticed a change in their health to contact their GP, get their symptoms checked and attend any tests their doctor thinks are needed.”