Bladder cancer

Also known as: Cancer, bladder, superficial bladder cancer, invasive bladder cancer, bladder tumor

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, part of the urinary tract that stores urine.

Bladder cancer can usually be cured if it is found and treated early. Most bladder cancers are noninvasive (confined to the lining).

What causes bladder cancer?
We don't know what causes this cancer, but being exposed to certain chemicals or cigarette smoking raises your risk. And as with other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role. Also, when the lining of the bladder is irritated for a long time, cell changes that lead to cancer may occur. Some things that cause this are radiation treatment, having catheters in place for a long time, or having the parasite that causes schistosomiasis.

What are the symptoms?
Blood in the urine is the main symptom. Other symptoms may include having to urinate often or feeling pain when you urinate.

These symptoms can be caused by other problems, including a urinary tract infection. Always call your doctor if you see blood in your urine.

How is it treated?
The treatment depends a lot on how much the cancer has grown. Most bladder cancers require some type of bladder surgery, which is usually performed by a urologist. Treatment beyond surgery usually includes a team of clinicians working together and may include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, patient advocates and other caregivers.

Visit Providence Urological Services and Providence Cancer Center for more information on treatments.

Treatment for early-stage cancer:
Many bladder cancers are caught early, when the cancers cells are confined to the bladder wall lining. This is called superficial bladder cancer.

  • Surgery to remove the tumor. Transurethral resection (TUR) of the bladder is a surgical procedure that is used both to diagnose bladder cancer and to remove cancerous tissue from the bladder. This procedure is also called a TURBT (transurethral resection for bladder tumor). General anesthesia or spinal anesthesia is usually used. During TUR surgery, a cystoscope is passed into the bladder through the urethra. A tool called a resectoscope is used to remove the cancer for biopsy and to burn away any remaining cancer cells.
  • Surgery to remove the tumor and part of the bladder. Surgery to remove part of the bladder is called a partial cystectomy or segmented cystectomy. This surgery may be done for patients who have a low-grade tumor that has invaded the wall of the bladder but is limited to one area of the bladder. Because only a part of the bladder is removed, patients are able to urinate normally after recovering from this surgery.

Treatment for later-stage cancer: 

  • Surgery to remove the bladder. If the cancer has spread beyond the bladder wall lining into the muscle wall, or if it covers a large part of the bladder, surgery to remove the bladder is often recommended. Called a radical cystectomy, this surgery involves removal of the bladder and any lymph nodes and nearby organs that contain cancer. In men, the nearby organs that are removed are the prostate and the seminal vesicles. In women, the uterus, the ovaries and part of the vagina are removed.

For some people, removal of the entire bladder means having urine flow into a bag outside of the body. But in many cases, doctors can make a new bladder—using other body tissue—that works very much like the old one.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given additional therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy. The most common adjuvant therapies are chemotherapyimmunotherapy and radiation therapy.

Bladder cancer often comes back, but the new tumors can usually be treated easily if they are caught early. So it’s very important to have regular checkups after your treatment is done.

What increases your chances of getting bladder cancer?
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 (Caucasian)
  • Being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, such as those used in the wood, rubber and textile industries
  • What you eat. A diet high in fried meats and fats increases your risk for bladder cancer.
  • Parasites. A parasite that causes schistosomiasis can increase your risk. This condition is sometimes found in developing countries and rarely occurs in North America.

For more information:
Visit our Healthwise Library for more information on bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Read about Providence Urology Services or find a urologist near you.