Bladder cancer starts in the tissues of the bladder. It can cause urinary and other symptoms such as back pain and fatigue. Treatment can depend on your cancer stage and type.
Bladder cancer occurs when abnormal bladder cells begin to divide and grow out of control. They may form a tumor and, with time, spread to surrounding muscles and organs.
While other types of cancer may spread to the bladder, cancer is named for the location where it starts.
Keep reading to learn the symptoms, risk factors, treatment options, and survival rates for bladder cancer.
Bladder cancer can cause symptoms that vary from person to person. These may include:
- blood in the urine, which may be rust-colored, bright red, or may not be visible
- painful urination
- having to pee more than usual (frequent urination)
- having a sudden and overwhelming urge to pee (urgent urination)
- losing control of your bladder (urinary incontinence)
Bladder cancer may also cause symptoms that affect other parts of the body, particularly if the cancer has spread beyond the bladder. These can include:
Cancer occurs when cell mutations cause abnormal cells to grow and multiply quickly and uncontrollably. They then spread to other tissues.
While certain factors can increase your risk for the kind of DNA damage that causes these mutations, mutations may also occur at random. People can develop bladder cancer without having known risk factors, while others who have multiple bladder cancer risk factors may not develop bladder cancer at all.
Some factors may increase your risk of developing bladder cancer. These can include:
- smoking cigarettes
- exposure to cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), such as petroleum, rubber, metals, paint products, dyes, or diesel fumes
- a family history of bladder cancer
certain genetic changes
- having schistosomiasis, a bladder infection caused by a specific parasite
- drinking water contaminated with arsenic or chlorine
certain herbal medicinesand supplements
- previous treatment with the chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) or ifosfamide (Ifex)
- prior radiation therapy to treat cancer in the pelvic area
- chronic bladder infections or long-term use of urinary catheters
- not drinking enough fluids
- having a bladder defect
People who smoke cigarettes may be at least
Bladder cancer also tends to occur more often in certain groups of people. You may have a higher risk of developing it if you are:
- assigned male at birth
age 55or older
Doctors refer to the types of bladder cancer based on which cells become abnormal. These can include:
Transitional cell carcinoma
Transitional cell carcinoma or urothelial carcinoma is the
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma begins when thin, flat squamous cells form in the bladder after long-term infection or irritation in the bladder.
Adenocarcinoma begins when glandular cells form in the bladder after long-term bladder irritation and inflammation. Glandular cells make up the mucus-secreting glands in the body.
Small cell carcinoma
Small cell carcinoma begins in the neuroendocrine cells. These cells release hormones into the bloodstream following signals from your nervous system.
If you have symptoms or lab results, such as urinalysis results, that suggest bladder cancer, a doctor will typically take your medical history and conduct a physical examination. This may involve feeling in your vagina or rectum for lumps. They may also order tests to diagnose bladder cancer. Tests can include:
A doctor may diagnose bladder cancer using one or more of the following methods:
- a cystoscopy, which involves inserting a narrow tube that has a small camera on it through your urethra to see inside your bladder
- a biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of tissue from your bladder to test for cancer
- a computed tomography (CT) scan or an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) to view the bladder
- a urine tumor marker test, which can detect some types of bladder cancer
The doctor typically orders additional tests to stage bladder cancer. These tests look for signs of cancer in other areas of the body. These tests may include:
Doctors use a staging system to communicate how far the cancer has spread within your bladder, lymph nodes, and other organs. There are multiple staging systems for bladder cancer. Stages can include:
- Stage 0: The cancer hasn’t spread past the lining of the bladder
- Stage 1: The cancer has spread past the lining of the bladder, but it hasn’t reached the layer of muscle in the bladder
- Stage 2: The cancer has spread to the layer of muscle in the bladder
- Stage 3: The cancer has spread into the tissues that surround the bladder
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread past the bladder to the neighboring areas of the body
The stage may also be subdivided to more specifically describe the cancer’s spread.
A doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment based on the type and stage of your cancer, your symptoms, and your overall health.
Treatment for stage 0 and stage 1
Treatment for stage 0 and stage 1 bladder cancer may include:
- surgery to remove the tumor
- immunotherapy, which involves taking a medication that causes your immune system to attack the cancer cells
Treatment for stage 2 and stage 3
Treatment for stage 2 and stage 3 bladder cancer may include:
- removal of part of the bladder
- removal of the whole bladder (radical cystectomy) followed by surgery to create a new way for urine to exit the body
- radiation therapy
A doctor may recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy for multiple purposes, including to:
- shrink the tumor before surgery
- treat cancer when surgery isn’t an option
- treat remaining cancer cells after surgery
- prevent cancer from recurring
Treatment for stage 4 bladder cancer
Treatment for stage 4 bladder cancer may include:
- radical cystectomy and removal of the surrounding lymph nodes, followed by surgery to create a new way for urine to exit the body
- radiation therapy
- clinical trial drugs
Depending on your overall health, treatment may focus on removing cancer cells or relieving your symptoms and extending your life.
You may also choose to participate in a
Your outlook depends on a lot of variables, including:
- cancer type and stage
- your age
- your overall health, including any other health conditions you have
- how your cancer responds to treatment
According to the
- 97% for carcinoma in situ that hasn’t spread past the lining of the bladder
- 71% for cancer that hasn’t spread past the bladder
- 39% for cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs
- 8% for metastatic bladder cancer that has spread to a distant part of the body
What is a 5-year survival rate?
Health professionals often use 5-year survival rate as a measure of a disease’s outlook. It refers to the percentage of people with the disease that are still alive at least 5 years after their diagnosis.
Survival ratings are based on averages and may not reflect an individual’s life expectancy. In addition, as treatments improve, the outlook for people with bladder cancer may improve. The numbers in a 5-year survival rate are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least 5 years before.
Because doctors don’t yet know what causes bladder cancer, it may not be preventable in all cases. The following factors and behaviors may help reduce your risk of getting bladder cancer:
- not smoking, or quitting smoking, if you smoke
- avoiding secondhand cigarette smoke
- avoiding exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and wearing appropriate safety equipment when working with carcinogenic chemicals
- drinking plenty of water
Bladder cancer begins in the tissue of the bladder. It can cause urinary symptoms, such as urgency and frequency, and systemic symptoms such as fatigue.
Treatment and outlook can depend on the stage of your bladder cancer and other factors, including your age and overall health.