Bladder Cancer Overview
What is bladder cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
The bladder is a hollow organ in your lower belly (abdomen). Urine
is stored in it. This is the liquid waste that’s made by the kidneys.
The bladder wall is made up of layers of tissue. It has an outer
layer of muscle cells and an inner lining of other kinds of cells. Bladder cancer
most often starts in the cells that make the inside lining of the bladder. This
called urothelial carcinoma or transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). From the lining it
can move deeper into the other layers of the bladder wall.
Who is at risk for bladder cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
The risk factors for bladder cancer include:
Having a Caucasian ethnic background
Being a man
Exposure to certain chemicals and dyes
Chronic bladder problems
Certain medicines and supplements
History of bladder cancer yourself or in your family
Certain genetic syndromes
Past cancer treatment with certain kinds of chemo or
radiation to your pelvis
High levels of arsenic in your drinking water
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for
bladder cancer and what you can do about them.
Can bladder cancer be prevented?
There is no sure way to prevent bladder cancer. But some risk
factors can be controlled to help reduce your risk. Don’t smoke and limit exposure
and protect yourself from chemicals. It may also help to drink a lot of water and
eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
Are there screening tests for bladder cancer?
There are no regular screening tests for bladder cancer.
Screening tests are done to check for disease in people who don’t have
People at high risk, such as those who have had bladder
before, may be screened with cystoscopy. This is a test that lets the doctor
look inside the bladder using a thin tube that’s put in through the urethra.
Urine tests can also be done to look for blood or abnormal cells.
What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?
Common symptoms of bladder include:
Blood in your urine. Blood
is often the first sign of bladder cancer. The color of urine may be pink or
deep red, depending on the amount of blood. You may have clots of blood in the
Change in urinary habits.
This can include urinating more often than normal. You may feel an urgent need
to urinate, have trouble urinating, or have a weak stream of urine. You may have
burning or pain when urinating.
Lower back pain
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it’s
important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare
provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is bladder cancer diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history,
symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your provider will do a
physical exam. This may include a rectal or vaginal exam. They may do this to check
for the tumors that may be large enough to feel.
You may also have one or more of these tests:
Urinalysis and urine culture
Urine cytology test
Urine tests for bladder cancer tumor markers
Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
After a diagnosis of bladder cancer, you’ll likely need other
tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can
help determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer
has spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to
know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your
healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can
How is bladder cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of bladder cancer you
have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to
cure you, control the cancer, or to help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk
with your healthcare team about your treatment choices, and what the risks and side
effects may be.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and
radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control
cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or
injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may have just one treatment or
a combination of treatments.
Bladder cancer may be treated with:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This can cause side effects like hair loss, mouth sores, and
Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might
have and ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can
take to help prevent or control side effects.
Coping with bladder cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work
together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with a focus on high-protein foods.
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don’t get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for, and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have