What is Bladder Cancer? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that begins when abnormal cells grow in the bladder. It is common cancer, with an estimated 73,590 new cases diagnosed in the United States in 2017. Every person has risk factors for developing bladder cancer, but some people are at a higher risk than others.

Men, smokers, and individuals who have suffered from another type of urinary tract infection or been exposed to certain chemicals at work are all more likely to develop bladder cancer. The risk of developing bladder cancer also increases with age. The average age of diagnosis is around 65 years old, but it can occur at any age.

Many types of bladder cancer have varying aggressiveness and treatment options. In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of bladder cancer and how to protect yourself from developing it.

What are the Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?

Because bladder cancer grows slowly, it may not cause any symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. Symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • Blood in the urine.
  • Pain during urination.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Pain in the lower back.

Bladder cancer is also associated with a higher risk of developing diverticular bladder disease, a condition where small pouches develop in the bladder wall. This condition can cause abdominal discomfort but is not a precursor to bladder cancer. Bladder cancer is often treated with surgery to remove the bladder, which can cause swelling and pain in the bladder area. In this situation, patients may experience increased urination.

Who Gets Bladder Cancer?

Anyone can get bladder cancer, but it is most common in people over 50. Men get bladder cancer more often than women, and African Americans have the highest risk of diagnosis. Bladder cancer is also more common in people who smoke or have asbestos exposure. Bladder cancer can develop from a pre-existing condition, such as bladder diverticulitis, urinary tract infection, or cystitis.

What are the Types of Bladder Cancer?

Depending on where the cancer cells are growing, how quickly they are spreading, and what types of cells are involved, there are different types of bladder cancer. Bladder cancer can be further divided into two main categories: 

Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cancer begins in the cells that line the inside of the bladder. These cells are also involved in bladder infections. 

Bladder carcinoma: This type of cancer begins in the urothelium (the tissue that makes up the inside of the bladder wall). 

Other types of bladder cancer include:

Adenocarcinoma: This type of bladder cancer begins in the cells that make up the muscle of the bladder. 

Squamous cell carcinoma in situ: This type of bladder cancer grows in only the top layers of the bladder wall. 

Papillary carcinoma: This type of bladder cancer begins in the supporting structures of the bladder. 

Large-cell carcinoma: This type of bladder cancer starts in the bladder muscle and has a poorer prognosis than the other types. 

Bladder sarcoma: This type of bladder cancer begins in the connective tissue in the bladder wall.

Bladder Cancer Staging

Bladder cancer is staged using the TNM staging system. This system measures tumor size and spread, as well as the health of nearby tissues. The staging of bladder cancer helps determine the best course of treatment. The most common stages of bladder cancer are 

Stage I: Cancer has been detected inside the bladder but is still limited to the bladder wall. 

Stage II: Cancer has spread to the ureters or bladder walls but not other organs. 

Stage III: Cancer has spread to the bladder muscles or to organs near the bladder, such as the ureters, rectum, or kidneys. 

Stage IV: Cancer has spread outside of the bladder to organs such as the kidneys, liver, or lungs.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is typically diagnosed using a cystoscopy, where a doctor inserts a thin tube (called a cystoscope) into the bladder to examine the inside. This test can also help diagnose bladder cancer and other bladder issues, like bladder diverticulitis or bladder stones. If cancer is detected, the doctor may recommend additional tests, like an imaging test like a CT scan or MRI, an ultrasound, or a biopsy, to determine the exact subtype of bladder cancer and its stage.

Bladder cancer is most commonly treated with surgery to remove the bladder and other nearby organs, like the ureters, if they are affected. Sometimes, radiation therapy and chemotherapy treat bladder cancer in later stages, while other types of bladder cancers may not be treatable.


Bladder cancer is a serious condition that requires diligent care. Fortunately, it is also highly preventable. If you have been diagnosed with bladder cancer, there is still hope. The survival rate for bladder cancer is high, especially if it is detected early, so be sure to see your doctor regularly for screenings and examinations. To reduce your risk of bladder cancer, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol excessively, and avoid contact with asbestos.


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