Frequently Asked Questions

What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is the nation’s sixth most common form of cancer with more than 81,000 new cases and over 17,000 deaths each year.  Even though it is very common, it is one form of cancer that most people know very little about.  Bladder cancer, also referred to as urothelial carcinoma, begins when the cells in the lining of the bladder start to grow out of control.  It may also occur anywhere in the urethra, renal pelvis and ureters.

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

The most common symptom is blood in the urine. Other symptoms include irritation when urinating, urgency, and frequency of urination.  These are also common symptoms of a urinary tract infection.  If you have any of these symptoms, go see your doctor.

Who is at risk for bladder cancer?

The exact causes remain unknown, but smoking has been found to be the greatest risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers develop bladder cancer twice as often as people who don’t smoke.  Other risk factors include exposure to carcinogens in the environment.  Workers in the rubber, chemical and leather industries are at risk, as are hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, painters, textile workers and firefighters.

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

There are many tests your doctor can use including ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRI scans to detect irregularities in the bladder wall, which would suggest a possible cancer. The urologist will also perform a cystoscopy to look inside the bladder with a long thin camera to visually examine your bladder and may remove samples of any suspicious areas for biopsy. Urine cytology can be performed to detect cancer cells in urine. Other tests use urine-based markers to detect cells or substances in a urine sample that are relatively specific to bladder cancer.

What are the treatment options for bladder cancer?

The type of treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the type, stage, and grade of your bladder tumor. Treatments may include:

  • Transurethral resection of a bladder tumor (TURBT) – a procedure conducted to examine the bladder more completely under anesthesia and remove tumors. The tumor tissue is then examined by a pathologist to determine the stage and grade of the bladder cancer.
  • Intravesical Therapy – treatment that involves placing medications that destroy cancer cells directly into the bladder. There are two principal drugs that are used as intravesical chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
    • Bacille Calmette-Guerin or BCG is a weakened form of tuberculosis bacteria which causes an immune or allergic reaction that has been shown to kill cancer cells on the lining of the bladder.
    • Mitomycin C is an intravesical, anti-cancer drug that has been shown to be effective in reducing the number of recurrences of bladder tumors by as much as 50%, when delivered into the bladder after the TURBT.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is typically used to treat bladder cancer that has metastasized, which means the cancer cells have spread beyond the bladder to other organs. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is the term used for chemotherapy prior to surgery, and adjuvant chemotherapy is the term used for chemotherapy following surgery.
  • Surgery – If bladder tumors persist after intravesical therapy, if a tumor invades the muscle wall or if a tumor has a high chance of invading the muscle wall in the future, the urologist may suggest surgery to remove the bladder and keep the cancer from spreading any further.  Removal of the bladder, a “radical cystectomy” requires the surgeon to use part of the intestine to create a new way for urine to go from the kidneys out of the body. This new path is called a urinary diversion or urinary reconstruction.  The three most common types of urinary diversions are the ileal conduit, continent cutaneous pouch, and neobladder.
  • Bladder Preservation Therapy – Although bladder removal, with or without chemotherapy, is the treatment usually offered for muscle-invasive bladder cancer, for some patients it might be possible to use high-dose external beam radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy. This allows the patient to keep their bladder, and still leaves the possibility of removing the bladder later if tumors recur.
  • Advanced bladder cancer occurs when the abnormal cells of a muscle-invasive tumor spread beyond the bladder lining. For advanced stages of bladder cancer, your medical oncologist may recommend immunotherapy, anti-body drug conjugates or precision medicines.
Are there support groups for people with bladder cancer?

There are many bladder cancer support groups across the United States. Visit our support group page to find one near you.  There is also BCAN’s Inspire online support community available to survivors, caregivers and loved ones 24 hours a day. It is free to join and more than 56,000 members have posted thousands of different discussions supporting each other in battling bladder cancer. There are also general cancer support groups through hospitals and the Cancer Support Community.

What should I do if I suspect I may have bladder cancer?

Seek medical help:  The most important thing you can do if you suspect you may have bladder cancer is to see a physician, usually a urologist or medical oncologist, as soon as possible.  Most bladder cancers can be treated effectively with early detection.  If you are found to have bladder cancer – do not lose hope!  Today, there are more than one-half million bladder cancer survivors in the U.S. alone.

The information and services provides by the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) are for informational purposes only. The information and services are not intended to be substitutes for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are ill, or suspect that you are ill, seek professional medical attention immediately! BCAN does not recommend or endorse any specific physicians, treatments, procedures or products even though they may be mentioned on this site.