Bladder Cancer

Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer that starts in the lining of your bladder. Your bladder is a small hollow organ that holds your pee (urine). Healthcare providers have many ways to treat bladder cancer, including surgery to remove bladder cancer. Bladder cancer may come back after treatment, so people with bladder cancer should be vigilant about following up with their healthcare providers. 

Left untreated, bladder cancer may grow through your bladder walls to nearby lymph nodes and then other areas of your body, including your bones, lungs or liver.

Healthcare providers can treat early-stage bladder cancer — cancer that’s found and treated before it can spread — but about 75% of early-stage bladder cancers come back.

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Blood in your pee (urine) is the most common bladder cancer symptom. That said, simply having blood in your pee isn’t a sure sign of bladder cancer. Other conditions cause this issue, too. But you should contact a healthcare provider whenever you spot blood in your pee. Other bladder cancer symptoms include:

  • Visible blood in your pee (hematuria): Healthcare providers can also spot microscopic amounts of blood in pee when they do a urinalysis.
  • Pain when you pee (dysuria): This is a burning or stinging sensation that you may feel when you start to pee or after you pee. Men and DMAB may have pain in their penises before or after peeing.
  • Needing to pee a lot: Frequent urination means you’re peeing many times during a 24-hour period.
  • Having trouble peeing: The flow of your pee may start and stop or the flow may not be as strong as usual.
  • Persistent bladder infections: Bladder infections and bladder cancer symptoms have common symptoms.

Causes of Bladder Cancer

Healthcare providers and researchers don’t know exactly why certain bladder cells mutate and become cancerous cells. They’ve identified many different risk factors that may increase your chance of developing bladder cancer, including:

  • Cigarette smokeSmoking cigarettes more than doubles your risk of developing bladder cancer. Smoking pipes and cigars and being exposed to second-hand smoke may also increase your risk.
  • Radiation exposure: Radiation therapy to treat cancer may increase your risk of developing bladder cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Certain chemotherapy drugs may increase your risk.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals: Studies show that people who work with certain chemicals used in dyes, rubber, leather, paint, some textiles and hairdressing supplies may have an increased risk.
  • Frequent bladder infections: People who have frequent bladder infections, bladder stones or other urinary tract infections may be at an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Chronic catheter use: People who have a chronic need for a catheter in their bladder may be at risk for squamous cell carcinoma.

Diagnostics of Bladder Cancer

Healthcare providers do a series of tests to diagnose bladder cancer, including:

  • Urinalysis: Providers use a variety of tests to analyze your pee. In this case, they may do urinalysis to rule out infection.
  • Cytology: Providers examine cells under a microscope for signs of cancer.
  • Cystoscopy: This is the primary test to identify and diagnose bladder cancer. For this test, providers use a pencil-sized lighted tube called a cystoscope to view the inside of your bladder and urethra. They may use a fluorescent dye and a special blue light that makes it easier to see cancer in your bladder. Providers may also take tissue samples while doing cystoscopies.

If urinalysis, cytology and cystoscopy results show you have bladder cancer, healthcare providers then do tests to learn more about the cancer, including:

  • Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT): Providers do this procedure to remove bladder tumors for additional tests. TURBT procedures may also be a treatment, removing bladder tumors before the tumors can invade your bladder’s muscle wall. This test is an outpatient procedure done under spinal or general anesthesia.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test: This imaging test uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to take detailed images of your bladder.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Providers may do this test to see if cancer has spread outside of your bladder.
  • Chest X-ray: This test lets providers check for signs bladder cancer has spread to your lungs.
  • Bone scan: Like a chest X-ray, bone scans check for signs bladder cancer has spread to your bones.

Healthcare providers then use what they learn about the cancer to stage the disease. Staging cancer helps providers plan treatment and develop a potential prognosis or expected outcome.

Bladder cancer can be either early stage (confined to the lining of your bladder) or invasive (penetrating your bladder wall and possibly spreading to nearby organs or lymph nodes).

Treatment of Bladder Cancer

There are four types of bladder cancer treatment. Providers may use any or all of these treatments and may combine treatments.


Surgery is a common bladder cancer treatment. Providers chose surgical options based on the cancer stage. For example, many times, TURBT, the procedure used to diagnose bladder cancer, can treat bladder cancer that hasn’t spread. Healthcare providers either remove the tumor or use high-energy electricity to burn it away with a process known as fulguration.

Radical cystectomy is another treatment option. This surgery removes your bladder and surrounding organs. It’s done when people have cancer that’s spread outside of their bladder or there are several early-stage tumors throughout their bladder.

In men and people DMAB, this surgery removes prostates and seminal vesicles. In women and people DFMB, providers may remove ovaries, their uterus and part of their vagina. Providers also do surgery known as urinary diversion so people can still pass pee.

Providers may follow surgery with chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill any cancer cells surgery may have missed. This is adjuvant therapy.


These are cancer-killing drugs. Providers may use intravesical therapy to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to your bladder via a tube inserted into your urethra. Intravesical therapy targets cancer without damaging healthy tissue.


Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses your immune system to attack cancer cells. There are different types of immunotherapy:

  • Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG): This is a vaccine that helps boost your immune system.
  • PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitor therapy: PD-1 and PD-L1 are proteins found on certain cells. PD-1 is on the surface of T-cells that help regulate your body’s immune responses. PD-L1 is a protein found on the surface of some cancer cells. When these two proteins connect, the connection keeps T-cells from killing cancer cells. In inhibitor therapy, the two proteins can’t connect, leaving the way clear for T-cells to kill cancer cells.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy may be an alternative to surgery. Healthcare providers may combine radiation therapy with TURBT and chemotherapy. This treatment is an alternative to bladder removal surgery. Healthcare providers consider factors such as tumor growth and tumor characteristics before recommending this treatment

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy focuses on the genetic changes that turn healthy cells into cancer cells. For example, drugs called FGFR gene inhibitors target cells with gene changes that help cancer cells grow.