Bladder cancer can happen in children, but this is rare overall. Bladder cancer in children is typically not aggressive and is treated with surgery. The most common symptom is blood in urine.

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While cancer most often affects adults, it can also happen in children. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 9,620 children under 15 years of age in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis in 2024.

Overall, bladder cancer is rare in children. This article will dive deeper into the topic of pediatric bladder cancer, including its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook.

Bladder cancer happens when cells in your bladder begin growing uncontrollably. Your bladder is the hollow organ that stores urine until it can be released from your body during urination.

Bladder cancer isn’t a common type of childhood cancer — it occurs in only 0.1% to 0.4% of people under the age of 20 years.

Most bladder cancers, including pediatric bladder cancers, are urothelial carcinomas. Healthcare professionals might also refer to these cancers as transitional cell carcinomas.

Urothelial carcinomas begin in cells that line the inside of your bladder and other parts of your urinary tract.

The most common symptom of pediatric bladder cancer is blood in urine. This is typically painless but can sometimes occur with pain. The color of the blood can vary from bright red to rusty.

Other possible symptoms include:

Bladder cancer happens when cells in your bladder have DNA changes that cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. The exact causes of bladder cancer are not known, but health experts have identified some risk factors.

However, known adult risk factors for bladder cancer, such as smoking and occupational exposures, typically aren’t associated with pediatric bladder cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), bladder cancer is more common in children who:

In order to diagnose pediatric bladder cancer, your child’s doctor will first take your child’s personal and family medical history and do a physical exam.

Tests that doctors may order to help confirm or rule out a bladder cancer diagnosis include:

A cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming at any age. These feelings can be magnified when a child receives the diagnosis.

Below are some examples of questions you might want to ask your child’s medical team as you navigate the period after a cancer diagnosis:

  • What type of cancer does my child have?
  • What’s the outlook for this type of cancer?
  • How can I help my child cope with their diagnosis?
  • What type of treatment do you recommend? Why?
  • Who else will be included on my child’s treatment team?
  • How soon will my child need treatment?
  • Where will my child’s treatment occur? How long will it last?
  • Is there anything that I can do to help prepare my child for their treatment?
  • What are the side effects associated with treatment? What can I do to help prevent or manage them?
  • How will treatment affect my child’s daily life? How can I better help them cope with these effects?
  • Are there any long-term side effects associated with treatment?
  • How often will my child have follow-up visits after treatment? What will these entail?
  • What are the next steps if the cancer comes back after treatment?

The treatment of pediatric bladder cancer involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals. In addition to a pediatric oncologist, this team can include:

The type of treatment your child receives can depend on many factors, such as:

  • the specific type of bladder cancer they have
  • the extent (stage) of the cancer
  • how aggressive the cancer is likely to be
  • the size and location of the tumor
  • your child’s age and overall health

Surgeons commonly use a surgical procedure called a transurethral resection to treat pediatric bladder cancer.

To perform a transurethral resection, a surgeon uses a tool called a resectoscope, which they pass through the urethra and into the bladder. They use the resectoscope to remove the cancer along with an area of healthy tissue around the tumor.

If the cancer is very aggressive, surgeons may perform a cystectomy, which involves removing all or part of the bladder.

Overall, the outlook for children with pediatric bladder cancer is quite positive. This is because most bladder cancers in children are low grade, meaning they’re not very aggressive.

According to the NCI’s SEER program, the overall 5-year survival rate for bladder cancer in people under 20 years of age is 94.9%. This is the percentage of people with bladder cancer who are alive 5 years after their diagnosis.

Factors that can affect the outlook include:

  • whether the cancer can be removed with surgery
  • the type of cancer
  • the cancer stage
  • how aggressive the cancer is
  • the tumor’s size and location
  • your child’s age and overall health

Bladder cancer can come back after treatment, but this is much less common in children than in adults. Recurrence rates in people under 20 years of age are estimated to be 2.6% to 13%. In comparison, recurrence rates in adults are 40% to 70%.

There’s no standardized follow-up schedule for children after treatment for bladder cancer. However, it’s likely that your child will have periodic follow-ups involving ultrasound, cystoscopy, or both to make sure that their cancer hasn’t returned.

What is usually the first symptom of bladder cancer?

Blood in urine is often the first noticeable symptom of bladder cancer.

What is the most common bladder tumor in children?

Most bladder cancers in children and adults are urothelial carcinomas, which are also called transitional cell carcinomas.

What are the most common childhood cancers?

According to the NCI, the most common types of childhood cancers are leukemias, lymphomas, and tumors affecting the brain and other parts of the central nervous system.

Bladder cancer is not a common type of cancer in children. When it does occur, the most common type is urothelial carcinoma.

Pediatric bladder cancer is treated using surgery to remove the cancer. Because most childhood bladder cancers aren’t very aggressive, the outlook for pediatric bladder cancer is typically very positive.

Blood in urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. While this can be a symptom of a noncancerous condition such as a urinary tract infection, it’s still important to see your child’s pediatrician for any blood in urine. They can order tests to find out the cause.