Thumbnail image of: Urinary System: Illustration

Bladder Cancer

What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that line the inside of your bladder. The growth is called a bladder tumor. A bladder tumor may start as a small, wartlike growth.

The sooner cancer is found and treated, the better your chances for recovery. However, even advanced cancer can usually be treated. Treatment may slow or stop the growth of the cancer and ease symptoms for a time. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the type of cancer that you have.

What is the cause?

Chemicals that can cause bladder cancer can get into your blood from diesel fumes or working with chemicals such as rubber, dyes, hairdressing supplies, and others. Your kidneys filter out most of the chemicals, but some stay in your urine. Tumors can start after the lining of your bladder has been exposed for many years to these chemicals. Leather workers, rubber workers, painters, dry cleaners, truck drivers, and aluminum workers are at highest risk.

Smokers are much more likely to get bladder cancer. If you smoke cigarettes and you are also exposed to chemicals that cause bladder cancer, your risk increases even more.

Bladder cancer affects men more often than women. Bladder tumors are most likely to happen in white men over the age of 50.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Trouble starting to urinate
  • Lower back pain

What is metastasis?

The spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to other parts is called metastasis. What causes cancer to spread is not known. Cancer cells can:

  • Grow into the area around the tumor
  • Travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymph system. The lymph system is part of your body’s system for fighting infection. The lymph system consists of lymph nodes that store blood cells (lymphocytes) to fight infection and vessels that carry fluid, nutrients, and wastes between your body and your bloodstream.

New tumors then grow in these other areas. When bladder cancer spreads, it most often affects the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bones. Sometimes your first symptoms of cancer are in the part of the body where the cancer has spread. The symptoms of bladder cancer that has spread to another part of your body depend on where the tumors are. For example:

  • If the cancer has spread to the lungs, you may have a cough or trouble breathing.
  • If the cancer has spread to the bones, you may have bone pain.
  • If the cancer has spread to the liver, you may have yellowish skin, pain, or swelling in your belly.
  • If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes you may have heaviness, aching, and swelling in your arms, legs, or belly.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have tests such as:

  • Urine tests
  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the bladder
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the bladder
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the bladder
  • Cystoscopy, which uses a slim, flexible, lighted tube to look inside your bladder
  • Biopsy, which may be done during a cystoscopy to take a small sample of tissue for testing

You may need more lab tests and scans to check if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

How is it treated?

You and your healthcare provider will discuss possible treatments. You may also talk with a surgeon and a cancer specialist. Some things to think about when making treatment decisions are:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health
  • The stage of the cancer (how advanced the cancer is)
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body

Possible treatments are:

  • Ablation, which uses high-frequency electrical current passed through a scope into the bladder to kill cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells
  • Surgery to remove the tumor. All or part of your bladder may also need to be removed. If your bladder is removed, your provider will create a new way for urine to pass out of your body through an opening in your belly (a urostomy). Your provider will create a pouch to collect urine inside your body, or a bag will be attached to the opening outside your belly.

Your treatment will also include:

  • Preventing infections
  • Controlling pain or other symptoms you may have
  • Controlling the side effects from treatments
  • Helping you manage your life with cancer

Often, more than 1 treatment is used. After treatment, you will need to have regular follow-up visits with your healthcare provider.

Ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials that might be available to you. Clinical trials are research studies to find effective cancer treatments. It’s always your choice whether you take part in one or not.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have been diagnosed with bladder cancer:

  • Talk about your cancer and treatment options with your healthcare provider. Make sure you understand your choices.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

Other things that may help include:

  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Try to reduce stress and take time for activities that you enjoy. It may help to talk with a counselor about your illness.
  • Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.
  • Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol. It may interfere with medicines you are taking. Alcohol can also make it harder for white blood cells to fight infections.
  • Tell your provider if your treatment causes discomfort. Usually there are ways to help you feel more comfortable.

How can I help prevent the cancer from spreading or coming back?

  • Complete the full course of radiation, hormone, or chemotherapy treatments recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a return of any previous signs or symptoms or develop any new ones.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-29
Last reviewed: 2014-10-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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