The bladder is located in the lower abdomen. It is a hollow organ with flexible muscular walls. It stores urine until a person is ready to urinate. Bladder cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the bladder.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case bladder cells, divide without control or order. Sometimes, cells divide uncontrollably when new cells are not needed. A mass of tissue called a growth or tumor can form. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. Malignant tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Three main types of cancer affect the bladder. They are named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous:
- Transitional cell (urothelial) carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The cause of bladder cancer is unknown. However, several risk factors have been identified.
This condition is more common in adults between 65 and 85 years old. It is also more common in men and people who are Caucasian. Factors that may increase your chance of developing bladder cancer include:
Occupation due to exposure to certain substances:
- Rubber, leather, and textile workers
- Truck drivers
- Petroleum industry workers
- Chronic bladder inflammation or infection such as schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a parasitic worm
- Personal or family history of bladder cancer
- Chemotherapeutic drugs: cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide
- The use of pioglitazone, an anti-diabetic agent
- Exposure to arsenic
- Radiation treatment of the pelvis
- Bladder birth defects
- Chemicals such as nitrosamines and benzidine
- Urinary stones for many years
- In-dwelling catheter for many years
- Bladder diverticuli: an area of weakness in the bladder wall through which some of the lining of the bladder is forced out
- Metastasis from another cancer
- Blood in the urine
- Frequent urination, or feeling the need to urinate without being able
- Painful urination
- Lower back pain
- Weight loss, bone pain, or abdominal pain in advanced cases
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will feel the abdomen and pelvis for abnormalities. The physical exam may include a rectal or vaginal exam.
- Your urine may need to be examined. This can be done with:
- Urine cytology
- Urine culture
- Your bladder and the surrounding area may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
- A sample of bladder tissue may need to be tested. This can be done with a biopsy.
Staging tests are done after bladder cancer is found. These tests find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. Treatments for bladder cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. The stages of bladder cancer are:
- Stage 0: cancer cells are found only on the surface of the inner lining of the bladder
- Stage 1: cancer cells are found deep in the inner lining of the bladder; no lymph nodes are involved
- Stage 2: cancer cells have spread to the muscle of the bladder; no lymph nodes are involved
- Stage 3: cancer cells have spread through the muscular wall of the bladder to the layer of tissue surrounding the bladder OR possibly to the reproductive organs including the prostate glands; no lymph nodes are involved
- Stage 4: cancer cells extending outside the bladder to the wall of the abdomen or to the wall of the pelvis without lymph node involvement OR have spread to one or more lymph nodes and other parts of the body
Stages of Bladder Cancer
Treatment options depend on the stage and may include one of more of:
Surgery involves removing cancerous cells and nearby tissue. Types of surgery to treat bladder cancer include:
- Transurethral resection—This is done for early stage or superficial bladder cancer. A cystoscope is placed into the bladder through the urethra. A small wire loop at the end of the cystoscope is used to remove cancer cells. Fulguration can be done during this procedure. It uses electrical current to burn away remaining cancer cells.
- Cystectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the bladder—This is done when bladder cancer is invasive. Segmental or partial cystectomy is the removal of part of the bladder. Radical cystectomy is the removal of the entire bladder and nearby lymph nodes. In men, the prostate is usually also removed. In women, the uterus, ovaries, part of the vagina, and the fallopian tubes might also be removed. A form of urinary diversion must be created to store the urine if the bladder is removed.
Radiation Therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
- External radiation therapy—Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body.
- Internal radiation therapy—Radioactive materials are placed near the cancer cells in the bladder through the urethra or through an incision in the abdomen.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. For bladder cancer, chemotherapy is often given directly into the bladder. This is called intravesical chemotherapy.
Biologic Therapy (Immunotherapy)
Biologic therapy is the use of the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or in a laboratory are given directly into the bladder to help boost, direct, or restore the body’s defenses against the cancer. This type of therapy is used only for superficial low-grade cancers that have been resected transurethrally.
The following steps can reduce your risk of getting bladder cancer:
- If you smoke or use tobacco products, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
- Avoid or minimize occupational exposure to certain chemicals; follow good work safety practices.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid excess intake of high fat or high cholesterol foods.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Bladder cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/bladdercancer. Accessed June 11, 2015.
Bladder cancer. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/bladder-cancer. Accessed June 11, 2015.
Torpy JM. Bladder cancer. JAMA. 2005;293(7):890. Available at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/293/7/890. Accessed June 11, 2015.
What you need to know about bladder cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/bladder. Accessed June 11, 2015.
7/21/2015 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Sun JW, Zhao LG, et al. Obesity and risk of bladder cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis of 15 cohort studies. PLoS One. 2015 Mar 24;10(3).
Last reviewed June 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.