Bladder Cancer- Risk Factors, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Published: October 12, 2018

The bladder is a hollow, balloon shaped organ in your urinary system and is located in the lower pelvis. It stores urine before it is dispelled from the body. And like most organs, the bladder is susceptible to developing cancer.

In the United States, bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer. That means that this year alone, more than 81,000 Americans will receive a bladder cancer diagnosis. (1)

Types of Bladder Cancer (1)

Bladder cancer occurs when the cells in the bladder grow uncontrollably and there are two primary forms of bladder cancer that are seen in most patients.

  1. Non-Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer (NMIBC)

This type of bladder cancer is limited to the thin tissue on the interior of the bladder. This type of cancer doesn’t impact the bladder muscle, and is contained to the bladder – it doesn’t typically spread further. Over 90% of bladder cancers are NMIBC.

  1. Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer (MIBC)

This type of bladder cancer invades the muscle of the bladder wall. If left untreated, the cancer can spread to impact nearby tissues, the lymph nodes, the lungs, and other parts of the body. MIBC is typically a more advanced stage of cancer and normally requires immediate treatment.

Bladder Cancer Risk Factors

The risk for developing bladder cancer increases with age, and is higher for men and Caucasians. (1) Family history of bladder cancer is another indicator that your risk for having bladder cancer is increased.

People who smoke tobacco are two to three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers. In addition, people who have been exposed to workplace chemicals, cancer drugs and pelvic radiation are also at a heightened risk for bladder cancer. High levels of arsenic in drinking water, long-lasting bladder infections, and certain medications also have the potential to cause bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer Symptoms

The most common early sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine (hematuria). Even if you only notice blood in your urine once, you should still consult your doctor.

Less common symptoms include frequent urination with increased urgency, painful urination, slow or intermittent urination, abdominal pain, and back pain. (1)

If you have any of the symptoms listed, you should consult a urologist. While some of the symptoms are indicators of less serious issues, it’s important to rule out cancer of the bladder.

Bladder Cancer Diagnosis

If your urologist suspects bladder cancer, a few different tests are required to make a diagnosis. Your urologist will examine your urine to check for blood and the presence of abnormal cells. Your doctor may perform a test that allows for an inside look at the bladder and check for biomarkers that indicate bladder cancer. This can be done through CT scan and cystoscopy (the latter allows a view of the bladder via a small flexible scope.)

Bladder Cancer Treatment

 Your treatment plan will be unique to you based on your urologist’s assessment of your condition, the type of cancer, and the stage at which you’re diagnosed. In most cases, the options include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical removal of the cancerous tissue.

Virginia Urology is a leader in the treatment and research of urologic cancers. Some of our urologists have specialized in urologic cancer and have fellowship training in urological cancer surgical techniques. That means, our surgeons are able to offer the most up-to-date and advanced techniques for treating bladder cancer. We have a comprehensive in-house cancer team that includes physicians, pathologists, radiologists, and radiation oncologists. At Virginia Urology, we can guide you through every step of battling bladder cancer, from diagnosis to treatment.