What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer: Overview

Bladder cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in the bladder. These extra cells grow together and form masses, called tumors. Bladder cancer is more common in older people.

Treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor or to remove part of the bladder. If the tumor is large and growing into the muscle layer of the bladder, the entire bladder may be removed. Some people get treatment with medicine inside the bladder that activates immune cells in the bladder. You may also have radiation or chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. Other treatment options include targeted therapy or immunotherapy.

Bladder cancer

Bladder cancer happens when cells in your bladder grow abnormally and out of control. The cancer cells can spread to other parts of your body. The bladder is the part of your urinary tract that stores your urine until you are ready to let it out.

The cause of bladder cancer isn't known. It can often be treated successfully if it is found early.

What happens when you have bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer often begins in the lining of the bladder. It may spread into the bladder wall and out to the lymph nodes or other organs. Most bladder cancer can be successfully treated. But bladder cancer often comes back, so you may get other treatments to lower the chances of that happening.

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

Blood in the urine is the main symptom. Other symptoms include having to urinate often or feeling pain when you urinate. Bladder cancer can also cause pain in the lower back and pelvis.

How is bladder cancer treated?

Treatment for bladder cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. Most people have:

The doctor may be able to remove the tumor. Sometimes part or all of the bladder has to be removed.

Other treatments include:


These medicines kill fast-growing cells. These include cancer cells and some normal cells. Chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery. Or it may be put into the bladder.

Radiation therapy.
This uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be used before or after surgery.

Other treatments include immunotherapy, which can be put into the bladder or given by I.V., and targeted therapy.

If bladder cancer comes back inside the bladder, it can be removed. If it comes back outside of the bladder, it can be treated to slow the growth of the cancer and relieve symptoms.

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

To diagnose bladder cancer, your doctor will:

  • Ask about your medical history. You may be asked about smoking, any contact with chemicals that cause cancer, and any history of cancer in your family.
  • Do a physical exam. This may include a rectal or pelvic exam.
  • Test your urine to look for blood or abnormal cells.
  • Do a cystoscopy. This is a test that lets your doctor look into your bladder with a thin, lighted viewing tool.
  • If an area of abnormal tissue or a tumor is found during your cystoscopy, you may have a CT scan or MRI. You will also likely have a transurethral resection of the bladder tumor (TURBT). During a TURBT, your doctor will take a sample of tissue (biopsy) or remove the tissue (tumor).

If your doctor finds cancer, there may be other tests to see how much the cancer has grown and if it has spread.

How can you care for yourself when you have bladder cancer?

The side effects of treatment can be serious. Keep in contact with your care team. They can help you manage your pain and other symptoms. Try to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. Do things you enjoy. For extra support, attend a support group or talk with a counselor.

What increases your risk for bladder cancer?

Anything that increases your chances of getting a disease is called a risk factor. The main risk factors for bladder cancer include:

  • Smoking. Cigarette smokers are much more likely than other people to get bladder cancer.
  • Being older than 40, being male, or being white.
  • Personal or family history of bladder cancer.
  • Past radiation treatment to the pelvis.
  • Being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. These chemicals are found in many products, including dyes, paints, solvents, inks, and the dust from leather.
  • Repeated infections in the bladder or irritation of the lining of the bladder.
  • Having Lynch syndrome.

What is bladder cancer?

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the body. These extra cells grow together and form masses, called tumors. In bladder cancer, these growths happen in the bladder.

The bladder is the part of your urinary tract that stores your urine until you are ready to let it out.

The most common type of bladder cancer starts in the inner layer of the bladder. It is called transitional cell carcinoma. It happens most often in people who are in their 60s or older.

What causes bladder cancer?

The exact cause of bladder cancer isn't known. But experts have found that genetic changes are involved. Also, cigarette smoking and chemicals from your environment can cause cell changes in the lining of your bladder, where urine is stored. These cell changes can lead to cancer.

Other things that can cause cell changes in your bladder include having bladder stones or having the schistosomiasis parasite.

Stages of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer stages

The stage of a cancer means how much it has grown or spread. Bladder cancer starts in the inner layer of the bladder and moves outward.

  • In stages 0 and I, cancer is found in just the inner layer.
  • In stage II, cancer is found in the muscle layer.
  • In stage III, the cancer is found outside the bladder. Or it has spread to nearby organs, such as the prostate, uterus, or vagina.
  • In stage IV, the cancer is found in the belly. Or it has spread to another part of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or bones.

Bladder cancer: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after taking pain medicine.
  • You have symptoms of a kidney infection. These may include:
    • Pain or burning when you urinate.
    • A frequent need to urinate without being able to pass much urine.
    • Pain in the flank, which is just below the rib cage and above the waist on either side of the back.
    • Blood in your urine.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.