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What is Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer usually begins in the cells that line the inside of the bladder (the organ that stores urine). Bladder cancer is often caught early and, as a result, highly treatable. Correct diagnosis and staging are important for successful treatment.

Types of Bladder Cancer

There are three main types of bladder cancer:

  • Transitional Cell Carcinoma begins in the stretchy cells of the inner lining of the bladder. Most bladder cancers are transitional (or urothelial) cell carcinomas.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma begins in the thin, flat cells of the bladder’s lining.
  • Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.

Risk Factors, Signs & Symptoms

Risk Factors for Bladder Cancer

The following are common risk factors for the disease:

  • Age – The risk of bladder cancer increases with age.
  • Tobacco – Tobacco use is a major risk factor. Cigarette smokers are two to three times more likely than nonsmokers to get bladder cancer. Pipe and cigar smokers are also at increased risk.
  • Occupation – Certain workers have a higher risk of bladder cancer due to exposure to carcinogens in the workplace. Workers in heavy industries such as rubber, chemical, and leather industries are at risk, as are hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, printers, painters, textile workers, and truck drivers.
  • Race and Sex – Whites get bladder cancer twice as often as African Americans and Hispanics. Asians have the lowest rate of bladder cancer. Men are two to three times more likely than women to get bladder cancer.
  • Genetics – People with biological family members who have had bladder cancer are more likely to get the disease.
  • Frequent Bladder Infections – Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma can develop as a result of chronic irritation and inflammation of the bladder.

Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

The following signs and symptoms may indicate cancer is developing in the bladder. These symptoms are also associated with infections and bladder stones. It is important to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis.

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain during urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling the need to urinate without results

Diagnosis & Staging

Bladder Cancer Diagnosis

The following procedures are used to diagnose bladder cancer:

  • Physical Exam - A doctor examines the abdomen and pelvis for tumors. The physical exam may also include a rectal or vaginal exam.
  • Urine Test - Samples of urine are checked for blood, cancer cells, and other signs of disease.
  • Intravenous Pyelogram – This series of x-rays involves the injection of a dye into a blood vessel, usually in the arm. Images are taken as the dye collects in the urine and travels through the urinary system.
  • Cystoscopy - A doctor uses a thin tube with a light called a cystoscope to look directly into the bladder and examine the lining. Anesthesia may be used for this procedure.
  • Biopsy - A doctor removes tissue samples with the cystoscope. A pathologist then examines the tissue under a microscope. In many cases, a biopsy is the only sure way to know whether cancer is present.
  • In a small number of cases, the doctor removes the entire cancerous area during the biopsy. For these patients, bladder cancer is diagnosed and treated in a single procedure.

Learn About Stages of Bladder Cancer


Bladder Cancer Treatment

Your treatment options depend on the stage of bladder cancer, your overall health and your preferences. In metastatic disease, when the cancer has spread beyond the bladder, the location and extent of the bladder cancer are important considerations as well. If your cancer spreads to the bone, visit our bone metastases page.

Take your time and consider your treatment options carefully. Ask questions to make sure you understand the treatments being described. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to say something again or explain a medical term. Research shows that people of all educational levels and backgrounds can have a hard time communicating with their health care team. One of the best ways to improve communication is to prepare questions before your visits. It is also a good idea to write down notes when your doctor is talking so you can remember what was said. You may want to bring a friend or family member who can take notes for you.

Bladder Cancer Treatment Plan

A treatment plan can help with both the short- and long-term goals of managing your bladder cancer. Talk through all of your options with your doctors in order to develop a treatment plan that best fits your needs. Seek a second opinion if needed.

Common Methods of Treating Bladder Cancer & Side Effect Management