Bladder Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

The bladder is a vital organ, often referred to as the urinary bladder.

The bladder is a hollow organ primarily composed of muscular tissue. Its main function is to collect urine from the kidneys. The primary purpose of the bladder is to collect urine, which is sent from the kidneys1. The bladder will also store urine before a person urinates.

During urination, the bladder contracts to expel urine through the urethra.

The urethra connects the bladder to the external part of the body.

In some individuals, bladder cells can become abnormal, potentially leading to the development of cancerous cells.

Bladder cancer poses specific risks and may lead to severe complications. Early detection is critical for more successful treatment outcomes.

This post takes a closer look at bladder cancer. We consider the different types of bladder cancer. We also look at the essential symptoms that patients need to recognize.

The aim is to promote early diagnosis and explore current treatment options for bladder cancer. The post also focuses on potential treatment options that are available at the moment.

What Is Bladder Cancer?

We will start by considering what exactly bladder cancer. Bladder cancer is a condition characterized by the growth of cancerous cells, typically forming a tumor.

Cancer can impact various body parts, including the bladder, which plays a vital role in toxin expulsion. As a result, bladder cancer can become a serious condition.

Bladder cancer is less common compared to skin, breast, or prostate cancer. However, there are approximately 68,000 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed in the United States each year 2.

Bladder cancer is more commonly reported in male patients, and age appears to be a contributing factor. While it primarily affects older individuals, there are cases of young adults developing bladder cancer.

In most cases, bladder cancer initially affects urothelial cells, which are located in the inner lining of the bladder. It’s important to note that the same cancerous cells can also affect other parts of the urinary tract system. Individuals with bladder cancer should be aware that some of the symptoms may resemble those of other medical conditions.

A patient with bladder cancer may experience symptoms that are sometimes related to urinary tract infections 3, for example. A thorough check-up with a healthcare professional can shed light on the cause behind the symptoms.

What Are The Different Types Of Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer encompasses various types of cancer that can affect the bladder, each with its unique characteristics.

Different types of bladder cancer vary in seriousness and can impact treatment decisions. Understanding the specific type is crucial for patients, as it can provide insights into the severity and treatment approach.

In some cases, bladder cancer may involve multiple types of cells, making it challenging to pinpoint a specific diagnosis.

In this section, we will take a closer look at the types of bladder cancer. We also consider what parts of the bladder are affected by each type.

Urothelial Carcinoma

Urothelial carcinoma is sometimes also referred to as transitional cell carcinoma. This is when the cancerous cells are found inside the patient’s bladder. The urothelial cells help with controlling the bladder. When the bladder is full, the urothelial cells expand. They then contract as a person empties their bladder.

The urethra and ureters also contain urothelial cells.

In urothelial carcinoma, these cells become cancerous. This may cause them to grow and divide abnormally. In turn, a tumor develops and the urothelial cells in the urethra and ureters can also become cancerous.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This is a type of bladder cancer that takes longer to develop. It is generally linked to chronic irritation of the patient’s bladder. Infection is often a contributing factor mentioned with squamous cell carcinoma.

The use of a urinary catheter for an extended period of time is another possible contributing factor. People who are exposed to schistosomiasis are at a higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma. This is a type of parasitic infection.


With Adenocarcinoma, the origin of bladder cancer needs to be identified. In this case, cells in the mucus-secreting glands that are found in the bladder first become cancerous. When this happens, they may rapidly grow and form a tumor.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Bladder Cancer?

In the United States, urothelial carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed type of bladder cancer, often affecting the interior of the bladder and, in some cases, other parts of the urinary tract.

This is the type of bladder cancer most adults in the country tend to suffer from upon diagnosis. In many cases, the disease will affect the interior region of the patient’s bladder. There are also many cases where other areas of the urinary tract are affected.

Urothelial carcinoma can vary in severity, with less severe cases requiring less invasive treatment options. In some instances, treatment may be less invasive than procedures like enlarged prostate surgery.

What Are The Most Aggressive Forms Of Bladder Cancer?

Another significant type of bladder cancer to discuss is muscle-invasive bladder cancer, often referred to as MIBC.

MIBC, short for muscle-invasive bladder cancer, is characterized by the spread of cancer within the bladder, specifically affecting the detrusor bladder muscle.

Treating MIBC is more challenging, often requiring more invasive interventions. It’s not uncommon to encounter cases of muscle-invasive bladder cancer, affecting up to 25% of patients

Symptoms Of Bladder Cancer

When cancer cells develop, early treatment is crucial to avoid serious complications. Therefore, it’s important for people to be aware of possible symptoms that may occur.

A more advanced stage of cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma, is likely to cause more severe symptoms, especially when cancerous cells spread.

There are several common symptoms of bladder cancer that patients should be educated about. It’s worth noting that many of these symptoms can resemble those of urinary tract infections. However, promptly consulting a doctor is essential. These symptoms include 6:

  • There may be blood that appears in the patient’s urine. (Hematuria)

  • Blood clots may appear in the patient’s urine too.

  • Pain symptoms may occur during urination.

  • Some patients complain about a burning sensation when they urinate.

  • Urination frequency may be increased.

  • There may be a consistent need to urinate. When the patient tries to urinate, the patient may not be able to pass any urine. Sometimes, only a small amount of urine is passed.

  • Lower back pain can develop. This will only affect one side of the individual’s body.

  • Nighttime urination will also increase. (Nocturia)

What Kind Of Pain Can Bladder Cancer Cause?

Pain is often listed as one of the most common symptoms related to bladder cancer. Patients should realize what type of pain this disease may cause. This can help the patient differentiate between cancer and possible infection.

In most patients, the pain will occur during urination. This is what makes it hard to differentiate bladder cancer from other conditions. The pain may be accompanied by a burning sensation. This generally only occurs while the patient is urinating.

It should be noted that pain may occur in other areas of the body too. In such a case, it may be a sign that cancer is becoming more serious. Pain may affect the lower back region of the patient. In most cases, only one side of the patient’s body will be affected by the pain.

If cancer spreads, additional pain symptoms may occur. The specific regions affected by pain depend on where cancer spreads to.

What Are The Symptoms Of Late-Stage Bladder Cancer?

Late-stage bladder cancer is considered serious. A patient diagnosed with bladder cancer should know how to look out for signs that the disease is progressing. This will help them keep their physician updated on symptoms.

It would also help the physician understand if additional tests were needed at some point. Treatment can be adjusted at such a point.

At this point, the disease may also be called stage four bladder cancer. It means the cancer is severe. It is generally very hard to remove cancer at stage four. Thus, treatment will generally focus on helping to enhance the patient’s quality of life for the time being.

Late-stage bladder cancer means the cancerous cells have spread outside of the urinary tract. Other parts of the patient’s body would be affected at this time. Thus, additional symptoms may start to develop.

Some symptoms that have been associated with late-stage blood cancer include:

  • Severe weight loss

  • The patient may experience bone pain

  • Feet may become swollen

  • There may be more significant pain in the patient’s lower back

  • There is sometimes an inability to urinate in the patient

  • The patient may feel very weak and tired

Specific symptoms may occur in the regions that have been affected by cancer too.

How To Catch Bladder Cancer Early?

Early detection of cancer cells in the bladder is crucial. This makes treatment less invasive. In some cases, surgical treatment7 may even be avoided. This would include options like radical cystectomy and transurethral resection.

When bladder cancer is detected early, it also reduced the risk of the cancerous cells spreading. Some people find it spreads to the urinary tract. Other parts of the body can be affected too. When the disease spreads, treatment becomes more invasive and more difficult.

When Should You Seek Treatment For Bladder Ailments?

Recognizing possible symptoms of bladder cancer and distinguishing them from those of a urinary tract infection is vital. Any worrisome symptoms should prompt immediate medical attention. Patients should educate themselves about these symptoms and promptly schedule an appointment with a doctor if they observe any, as early diagnosis leads to more effective treatment.

How Is Bladder Cancer Detected?

Early detection of bladder cancer is crucial and begins with an appointment with a physician. During this appointment, the doctor will inquire about the patient’s symptoms.

The doctor also needs to consider if it might be a urinary tract infection. In men, an enlarged prostate may be suspected too.

The doctor may consider the patient’s medical history too. This will help them identify specific risk factors to be taken into account.

  • Bladder cancer cannot be detected through a physical examination alone. Instead, specific imaging tests are required
  • A cystoscopy is a common diagnostic procedure employed by many physicians. It involves the insertion of a cystoscope, a small tube, into the urethra. Equipped with a lens, the cystoscope enables the doctor to visually examine the urinary tract, including both the urethra and the bladder, for the detection of abnormalities.

  • Urine cytology is another diagnostic method. It involves collecting a urine sample from the patient and analyzing it under a microscope in a laboratory. It’s important to note that urine cytology may not always detect cancer cells may not always be detectable through urine cytology.

  • Imaging tests are also commonly used. This includes a CT scan. A urogram or a retrograde pyelogram can be used too. This provides a visual image of the bladder and its surrounding structures. Abnormalities with the bladder can be detected with these imaging scans as well.

If abnormalities are found, a doctor may recommend a biopsy to obtain a more precise diagnosis. It’s essential to note that not all bladder growths are cancerous, and in benign cases, cancer treatment is not required. This is used as a tool to make a more accurate diagnosis. There are cases where growth in the bladder may be benign. In such a case, treatment for cancer is not needed.

A biopsy can be performed in conjunction with a cystoscopy. An additional instrument is inserted into the urethra alongside the cystoscope to collect a small bladder sample. This procedure is known as Transurethral Resection of the Bladder Tumor (TURBT).

Treatment Options For Bladder Cancer

Selecting the appropriate treatment for bladder cancer is influenced by various factors. Common treatment options include radiation therapy and chemotherapy, but there are multiple approaches to target cancer cells effectively.

The patient first needs to undergo a few tests. These tests allow the doctor to make an official diagnosis. The stage of bladder cancer also needs to be taken into consideration.

Intravesical chemotherapy, often referred to as bladder chemotherapy, is a common treatment choice for patients with urothelial carcinoma. This treatment involves delivering chemotherapy directly to the bladder.

Tumors limited to the lining of the bladder can often be effectively treated. However, it’s essential to note that there is a risk of new tumor development.

A patient with transitional cell carcinoma may also be provided with radiation therapy. This helps to destroy the cancerous cells in the bladder. It is often used before surgery.

Other options that a patient may be provided include:

  • Immunotherapy aims to bolster the patient’s immune system, enhancing its ability to combat cancer cells. It is a viable treatment option for bladder cancer and can also be used to target cancer cells in other parts of the body.
  • Surgical procedures are also commonly used. This allows a surgeon to remove the cancerous tissue in the bladder.

  • Reconstruction may involve complete removal of the bladder, followed by the reconstruction of the urinary tract system to provide a new way for urine to exit the body.
  • There are alternative options to consider as well. One option is the ileal conduit, which is used when the bladder needs to be removed. Another option is the continent urinary reservoir, also known as urinary diversion.

In advanced stages of bladder cancer, treatment may focus on managing symptoms and enhancing the patient’s quality of life.

Chemotherapy and related options may still be used. This may help to reduce the rate at which cancer spreads through the patient’s body.

If the individual experiences symptoms like urinary retention, appropriate treatments may be provided. This may include medicine to help ease these urinary symptoms. Some surgeries also help to improve urinary symptoms. Pain medication may also be provided to reduce the severity of pain symptoms.

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Bladder cancer is not as common as certain types of cancerous disease but still poses a serious threat. Failure to recognize symptoms early on makes it harder to treat the disease. There are certain symptoms that the patient should get checked out by a doctor.

Timely detection can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment. Remember, even if bladder cancer is not the cause, it’s essential to rule out other conditions through proper medical assessment.


  1. British Journal of Cancer. (2009) Urinary tract infections and reduced risk of bladder cancer in Los Angeles. [online] Available at:
  2. Urology Care Foundation. What is Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer (MIBC)? [online] Available at:
  4. Cancer.Net. (2019) Bladder Cancer: Symptoms and Signs. [online] Available at:
  5. American Cancer Society. Bladder Cancer Surgery. [online] Available at:


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