Early diagnosis and timely treatment of bladder cancer can drastically improve your survival. Moreover, bladder cancer caught in the early stages can often be cured.

Bladder cancer begins in the tissues of your bladder — an organ that holds your urine.

It’s a potentially serious condition that can result in death, especially if diagnosed late. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate of stage 4 bladder cancer is only around 15%.

What does “curing” bladder cancer look like? What types of bladder cancer can be cured? Can you completely recover from this condition? Read on to find answers to these and other important questions.

According to the National Cancer Institute, curing cancer means removing all traces of cancer and ensuring that it will never come back.

Bladder cancer can be cured if caught early and treated appropriately. However, to ensure that it’s caught if it recurs, you will need to have regular follow-up appointments with your oncologist and urologist. You may need to have these appointments long term, but the frequency usually decreases if no cancer has been detected after a few years.

Whether your cancer can be treated and doesn’t come back depends on many factors. Let’s discuss these in more detail.

Cancer stage

When it comes to bladder cancer, its stage is the primary factor that determines the likelihood of complete recovery.

Superficial bladder cancers, which affect only the lining of the bladder, can often be cured. Complete recovery depends on:

  • the number of tumors
  • tumor size
  • whether the tumor has come back after treatment
  • your age and general health

If your cancer has spread through the lining into the muscle wall of the bladder (muscle-invasive bladder cancer), the chances of a complete cure are a bit lower, but it’s still possible.

If your cancer has spread into other organs or tissues (metastatic bladder cancer), it’s unlikely to be cured.

Type of cancer

The most common type is called urothelial bladder cancer. Some doctors also call it transitional cell bladder cancer. Urothelial bladder cancer is curable if caught early.

Other types of bladder cancer include:

  • Squamous cell bladder cancer: This cancer is usually invasive and not easily curable.
  • Adenocarcinoma: It’s a very rare type of bladder cancer. It’s unlikely to be completely cured.
  • Cancers that do not start in the bladder lining: These are very rare. Successful treatment depends on the cancer type.

Stage 0 of bladder cancer is the earliest stage of bladder cancer. It involves only the surface layer of the bladder.

There are two kinds of stage 0 bladder cancer — stage 0a (noninvasive papillary) and stage 0is (flat noninvasive). Stage 0a is almost always curable with appropriate treatment. But stage 0is cancers can later come back, sometimes as more serious invasive tumors.

Stage 1 bladder cancers are those that have spread into the connective tissue of the bladder wall but haven’t yet reached the muscle layer.

There are slow-growing (low grade) and fast-growing (high grade) stage 1 bladder cancers. Stage 1 cancer can often be cured, but high grade tumors have a higher chance of coming back.

Stage 2 bladder cancers have invaded the muscle layer of the bladder wall.

These cancers can still be curable. The majority of people with stage 2 bladder cancers can be cured with radical cystectomy, which means the complete removal of the bladder and surrounding tissue.

Stage 3 bladder cancers have reached the outside of the bladder and might have grown into nearby tissues or organs. They may have also reached nearby lymph nodes.

Depending on how far your cancer has spread, it may still be cured using radical cystectomy.

Stage 4 bladder cancers have reached the pelvic or abdominal wall and might have spread into nearby lymph nodes. They may have also spread into distant tissues and organs of your body (metastasis).

These cancers are very unlikely to be cured completely. However, some treatments may help shrink the tumors and slow their further spread.

Superficial bladder cancer includes stages 0 and 1. These cancers are the most likely to be cured, but they sometimes can come back. Regular appointments with your oncologist and urologist are important to catch cancer quickly if it comes back.

Muscle-invasive bladder cancer includes stages 2 and 3. These cancers can still be cured, but the treatment may be more radical. In some cases, it involves complete bladder removal (radical cystectomy). There is a growing movement to treat muscle-invasive cancers that are confined within the bladder with chemotherapy and radiation with the intent of preserving the bladder.

Metastatic bladder cancer is stage 4. These cancers are very unlikely to be cured because they have spread outside of your bladder.

Treating bladder cancer depends on the following:

  • cancer stage and grade
  • cancer type
  • your age and overall health
  • your preferences

The following treatment options are available:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemo is the most common type of treatment that can be done at any stage.
  • Immunotherapy: Different types of immunotherapy can be used for early or late stage cancers.
  • Surgery: Surgery may offer a greater chance of a cure, but it also can carry serious risks and side effects. It can be done at any stage.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiation therapy is usually reserved for more advanced stages of cancer.
  • Targeted therapy: It’s used for more advanced bladder cancers or when your cancer has returned.

Bladder cancer is a serious condition that can result in death, especially if caught late. But with timely diagnosis and treatment, it can be a curable condition.

Early stage bladder cancer (stages 0 to 1) is almost always curable. Later stage cancer (stages 2 to 3) can still be cured, but the treatment is usually more radical. Metastatic (stage 4) cancer is unlikely curable.

Bladder cancer can come back. To ensure a complete cure, you will need to have regular, long-term follow-up appointments with your oncologist and urologist. Periodic cystoscopy (where doctors look inside your bladder with a thin camera called a cystoscope) is often necessary.