Bladder Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

The bladder is a crucial part of the body. The is an organ is sometimes also called the urinary bladder.

The bladder is a type of organ that forms part of the body. It is a hollow organ that is primarily made up of muscular tissue. 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’s neck relaxes, and urine is expelled from the body through the urethra.

The urethra connects the bladder to the outside of the person’s body, running through the sex organ of the individual.

In some people, cells in the bladder may become abnormal. This may lead to the growth and division of cells at an abnormal level. The result may be the development of cancerous cells.

A person with bladder cancer does face certain risks. The condition can also lead to fatal complications. Recognizing signs early on ensures treatment can yield more positive results.

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 goal is to ensure the patient can gain an earlier diagnosis. 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 an abnormality that grows in the bladder. The abnormality will consist of cancerous cells, usually be referred to as a tumor.

Cancer can affect any part of the human body. The bladder does play a crucial role in expelling toxins from the body. Thus, cancer of the bladder can often turn into a severe condition.

Bladder cancer is not considered as common as skin, breast, or prostate cancer. Still, there are thousands of new cases related to this cancer each year. In the United States, about 68,000 adults are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year2.

This type of cancer is found to be more frequently reported among male patients. Age also seems to play a role. Most cases of bladder cancer happen in older individuals. Still, there are cases where young adults also develop bladder cancer.

In most cases, urothelial cells are first affected by cancer, these cells are found in the bladder’s inner lining. It should be noted that other parts of the urinary tract system can be affected by the same cancerous cells too. People with bladder cancer need to understand that there are symptoms that may be similar to other conditions.

A patient with bladder cancer may experience symptoms that are sometimes related to urinary tract infections3, 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 is a term that refers to cancerous cells in the bladder. However, this is not a very accurate way of describing the disease. Scientific researchers have discovered that different types of cancer can affect the bladder.

Some of the bladder cancers that have been detected are not as serious as others. Understanding the different types is important for the patient. This helps them know what they should expect. The type of cancer may also suggest a specific severity. Furthermore, it may provide details on how invasive treatment may be.

It is important to note that sometimes cancer may affect different types of cells in the bladder. In such a case, making a specific diagnosis of the type of bladder cancer can be difficult.

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?

When looking at the most common type of bladder cancer, the region is something that should be taken into consideration. In the United States, people are most often diagnosed with urothelial carcinoma.

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.

This type of cancer may not always be too severe. In such cases, treatment would not be as invasive. Enlarged prostate surgery may even be more invasive in some cases.

What Are The Most Aggressive Forms Of Bladder Cancer?

There is another type of disease that we should mention here. It is called muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

Sometimes, this cancer is called MIBC too. This is the case when bladder cancer expands and spreads. In the case of MIBC, the detrusor bladder muscle is affected by cancer.

Cancer treatment, in the case of MIBC, becomes more difficult. The ultimate treatment that needs to be provided to the patient may also be more invasive. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear about a person who has a muscle-invasive type of bladder cancer. Up to 25% of patients may be affected by this type of cancer4.

Symptoms Of Bladder Cancer

When cancer cells develop, treatment is crucial to avoid serious complications. For this reason, people should be acknowledged with the possible symptoms that may occur.

A more serious cancer is likely to cause more severe symptoms. This may be the case with squamous cell carcinoma, for example – especially when the cancerous cells spread.

There are a few general symptoms that patients should look out for. These may be signs of bladder cancer. Many of these symptoms are similar to urinary tract infections. Still, getting them checked at a doctor can be helpful.

Common symptoms of bladder cancer that patients should be educated about include6:

  • 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?

One of the most critical ways to detect bladder cancer early is to ensure a patient notices the symptoms.

The patient should educate themselves on the possible symptoms that may signal bladder cancer. It is also important to consider the similarity between these symptoms and that of a urinary tract infection.

Any symptoms that seem worrisome should really be a call for concern. When the patient notices these symptoms, they should make an appointment with a doctor. This ensures any condition affecting the renal symptom can be identified. Appropriate treatment can then be provided to the patient.

How Is Bladder Cancer Detected?

The process of detecting bladder cancer starts with an appointment at a physician. The doctor will ask the patient about the symptoms they are experiencing.

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.

  • A physical examination alone cannot detect bladder cancer. Instead, certain imaging tests need to be conducted.

  • A cystoscopy is a common diagnostic tool that many physicians use. A small tube will be put into the urethra. The tube is called a cystoscope. A lens is attached to the cystoscope. The lens allows the doctor to see a visual image of the urinary tract. Both the urethra and the bladder can be examined with this too. Abnormalities can be detected through a cystoscopy.

  • Urine cytology may also be performed. A urine sample is collected from the patient. A microscope is used to analyze the urine. The scientist at a lab will look for the presence of cancer cells. 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.

When abnormalities are identified, a doctor may order a biopsy. 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 may be performed along with a cystoscopy. An additional tool is placed into the urethra. This tool is placed in the urethra along with the cystoscope. A small sample of the bladder is then collected. Transurethral resection of the bladder tumor is a term used for this biopsy process. It may also simply be referred to as TURBT.

Treatment Options For Bladder Cancer

The appropriate treatment depends on a few factors. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are both common options. There are several ways to target cancer cells, however.

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.

Chemotherapy of the bladder is a rather standard option. This is often provided to patients with urothelial carcinoma. The treatment is also called intravesical chemotherapy.

Tumors confined to the bladder’s lining can be treated. There is, however, a higher risk that new tumors may develop.

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 may strengthen the immune system. This increases the chance that the immune system will fight against the cancer cells. It can be used for bladder cancer. Cancer cells in other parts of the body can also be fought off this way.

  • Surgical procedures are also commonly used. This allows a surgeon to remove the cancerous tissue in the bladder.

  • Reconstruction is sometimes advised too. In such a case, the bladder may be removed entirely. The urinary tract system will then be reconstructed. This creates a new way for urine to exit the body.

  • There are a few alternative options available too. An ileal conduit is one option to consider. This is also an option when the bladder needs to be removed. The continent urinary reservoir is yet another option. This is also called urinary diversion.

In advanced stages of bladder cancer, symptoms may be addressed instead. Quality of life is also considered important.

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.

When detected early, treatment is generally more effective. We shared some of these earlier signs that patients need to take note of. Even when bladder cancer is not the cause, other conditions should be ruled out too.


  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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