Bladder cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. It is most often caught in its early stages, in which case it is highly treatable. Those who are treated for bladder cancer will need follow-up tests for years after treatment as it is prone to recur.
Bladder cancer begins in the cells lining the bladder, called urothelial cells. This type of cancer can also occur in other parts of the urinary tract drainage system. It develops when the urothelial cells begin to grow abnormally. When a mutation occurs, these cells divide and multiply rapidly, leading to tumor formation.
Causes & Risk Factors
There are several known causes of bladder cancer:
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Persistent irritation of the bladder lining
- Parasitic infections
- History of radiation exposure
- Exposure to certain chemicals
Some people with bladder cancer may not have experience with any of these risk factors. Sometimes, the cause of cancer isn’t always clear. Risk factors may increase your risk of bladder cancer – increasing age, being caucasian, being a man, and having received cancer treatment (specifically, the drug cyclophosphamide).
Certain symptoms may indicate bladder cancer, however, they may also occur in the absence of cancer. Experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily mean cancer is present.
Common symptoms may include:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Painful urination
- Pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Frequent urination
If you are experiencing certain symptoms, your doctor will perform several tests to rule out cancer.
- Urine Cytology – you will provide a urine sample that is analyzed under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
- Cystoscopy – a small, narrow tube is inserted through the urethra and allows the doctor to see the inside of the urethra and bladder.
- Biopsy – during the cystoscopy, the doctor may collect a small tissue sample to analyze it under a microscope for cancer cells.
- Imaging Tests – CT urogram, retrograde pyelogram X-Ray
If your doctor suspects that cancer may have spread to other parts of the body, they may order an MRI or bone scan. Based on the extent of cancer, your doctor will assign it to a stage (0 to 4). Stage 1 is the most common and is easily treatable. Stage 4 means cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or organs in distant areas of the body.
There are a few different types of bladder cancer.
- Urothelial carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
The treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer, its stage, and the patient’s health. Treatment options may include:
- Reconstruction (surgery to create a new way for urine to exit after bladder removal)
- Radiation therapy