Bladder Cancer

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The bladder is located in the lower abdomen. It is a hollow organ with flexible muscular walls. It stores urine until a person is ready to urinate. Bladder cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the bladder.

Three main types of cancer affect the bladder. They are named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous:

  • Transitional cell (urothelial) carcinoma—more than 90% of bladder cancers
  • Squamous cell carcinoma—about 4% of bladder cancers
  • Adenocarcinoma—about 1%-2% of bladder cancers


bladder cancer diagram illustration
Bladder Cancer Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk factors that increase your chance of developing bladder cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Increasing age: The majority of people with bladder cancer are between 65 and 85 years old.
  • Occupation (due to exposure to certain substances)
    • Those at risk include:
      • Rubber, leather, and textile workers
      • Painters
      • Hairdressers
      • Machinists
      • Printers
      • Truck drivers
      • Petroleum industry workers
  • Race: White
  • Sex: male
  • Genetics
  • Chronic bladder inflammation or infection (such as schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a parasitic worm)
  • Personal or family history of bladder cancer
  • Chemotherapeutic drugs: cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide
  • Exposure to arsenic
  • Radiation treatment of the pelvis
  • Bladder birth defects
  • Chemicals (such as nitrosamines, benzidine)
  • Urinary stones for many years
  • In-dwelling catheter for many years
  • Bladder diverticuli: an area of weakness in the bladder wall through which some of the lining of the bladder is forced out
  • Metastasis from another cancer


Symptoms include:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Frequent urination, or feeling the need to urinate without being able
  • Painful urination
  • Lower back pain
  • Weight loss, bone pain, or abdominal pain in advanced cases


Your doctor will feel the abdomen and pelvis for abnormalities. The physical exam may include a rectal or vaginal exam.

Tests include:

  • Your doctor may need to examine your urine. This can be done with:
    • Urine cytology
    • Urine culture
  • Your doctor may to look at your bladder and the surrounding area. This can be done with:
    • Cystoscopy
    • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
    • CT scan
    • MRI
    • Ultrasound
    • Bone scan
  • Your doctor may also order a biopsy to remove a sample of bladder tissue to test for cancer cells.


Treatment options include:

  • Surgery
    • Transurethral resection
    • Cystectomy (surgical removal of all or part of the bladder)
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biologic Therapy (Immunotherapy)


The following steps can reduce your risk of getting bladder cancer:

  • Don't smoke or use tobacco products. If you do, quit.
  • Avoid or minimize occupational exposure to certain chemicals; follow good work safety practices.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid excess intake of high fat or high cholesterol.
  • Minimize the use of phenacetin, a medication.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.