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Bladder cancer

Contents of this page:


Female urinary tract
Female urinary tract
Male urinary tract
Male urinary tract

Alternative Names    Return to top

Transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder

Definition    Return to top

Bladder cancer is a cancerous tumor in the bladder -- the organ that holds urine.

Causes    Return to top

In the United States, bladder cancers usually start from the cells lining the bladder (transitional cells).

These tumors may be classified based on the way they grow:

As with most other cancers, the exact cause of bladder cancer is uncertain. However, several factors may contribute to its development:

The association between artificial sweeteners and bladder cancer has been studied and is weak or nonexistent.

Bladder cancers are classified, or staged, based on their aggressiveness and how much they differ from the surrounding bladder tissue. There are several different ways to stage tumors. Recently, the TNM (Tumor, Nodes, Metastasis) staging system has become common. This staging system categorizes tumors using the following scale:

Bladder cancer spreads by extending into the nearby organs, including the:

It can also spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis, or to other parts of the body, such as:

Symptoms    Return to top

Most of the symptoms of bladder cancer can also occur with non-cancerous conditions. It's important to get evaluated if you have any of these symptoms:

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

The health care provider will perform a physical examination, including a rectal and pelvic exam.

Diagnostic tests that may be done include:

Treatment    Return to top

The choice of treatment depends on the stage of the tumor, the severity of the symptoms, and the presence of other medical conditions.

Stage 0 and I treatments:

Stage II and III treatments:

Most patients with stage IV tumors cannot be cured and surgery is not appropriate. In these patients, chemotherapy is often considered.


Chemotherapy may be given to patients with stage II and III disease either before or after surgery to help prevent the tumor from returning.

Chemotherapy may be given as a single drug or in different combinations of drugs. These drugs include:

The combination of gemcitabine and cisplatin is as effective as an older treatment called MVAC (methotrexate, vinblastine, doxorubicin, and cisplatin) with fewer side effects. Many centers have replaced MVAC with this new combination. Paclitaxel and carboplatin is another effective combination that is frequently used.

For early disease (stages 0 and I), chemotherapy is usually given directly into the bladder. Several different types of chemotherapy medications may be delivered directly into the bladder. They include:

A Foley catheter can be used to deliver the medication into the bladder. Common side effects include bladder wall irritation and pain when urinating. For more advanced stages (II-IV), chemotherapy is usually given by vein (intravenously).


Bladder cancers are often treated by immunotherapy. In this treatment, a medication causes your own immune system to attack and kill the tumor cells. Immunotherapy for bladder cancer is usually performed using the Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine (commonly known as BCG). It is given through a Foley catheter directly into the bladder.

Possible side effects include:

These symptoms usually improve within a few days after treatment. Rare side effects include:

Rarely, a tuberculosis-like infection can develop. This requires treatment with an anti-tuberculosis medication.


People with stage 0 or I bladder cancer can be treated with transurethral resection of the bladder (TURB). This surgical procedure is performed under general or spinal anesthesia. A cutting instrument is inserted through the urethra to remove the bladder tumor.


Many people with stage II or III bladder cancer may need to have their bladder removed (radical cystectomy). Partial bladder removal may be performed in some patients. Removal of part of the bladder is usually followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy to help decrease the chances of the cancer returning. Patients who have the entire bladder removed will receive chemotherapy after surgery to decrease the risk of the cancer coming back.

Radical cystectomy in men usually involves removing the bladder, prostate, and seminal vesicles. In women, the urethra, uterus, and the front wall of the vagina are removed along with the bladder. Often, the pelvic lymph nodes are also removed during the surgery to be examined in the laboratory.

A urinary diversion surgery (a surgical procedure to create an alternate method for urine storage) is usually done with radical cystectomy. Two common types of urinary diversion are an ileal conduit and a continent urinary reservoir.


An ileal conduit is a small urine reservoir that is surgically created from a small segment of bowel. The ureters that drain urine from the kidneys are attached to one end of the bowel segment. The other end is brought out through an opening in the skin (a stoma). The stoma allows the patient to drain the collected urine out of the reservoir.

People who have had an ileal conduit need to wear a urine collection appliance outside their body at all times. Possible complications with ileal conduit surgery include:


A continent urinary reservoir is an alternate method of storing urine. A segment of colon is removed. It is used to create an internal pouch to store urine.

Patients are able to insert a catheter periodically to drain the urine. A small stoma is placed against the skin.

Possible complications include:


This surgery is becoming more common in patients undergoing cystectomy. A segment of bowel is folded over to make a pouch (a neobladder, which means "new bladder"). Then it is attached to the place in the urethra where the urine normally empties from the bladder.

This procedure allows patients to maintain some normal urinary control. However, there are complications (including urine leakage at night). Urination is usually not the same as it was before surgery.

Some patients may not be good candidates for this procedure. Discuss the pros and cons with your urologist.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Patients are closely monitored to see whether the disease gets worse, regardless of which kind of treatment they received. Monitoring may include:

How well a patient does depends on the initial stage and response to treatment of the bladder cancer. The outlook for stage 0 or I cancers is fairly good. Although the risk of the cancer returning is high, most bladder cancers that return can be surgically removed and cured.

The cure rates for people with stage III tumors are less than 50%. Patients with stage IV bladder cancer are rarely cured.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Bladder cancers may spread into the nearby organs. They may also travel through the pelvic lymph nodes and spread to the liver, lungs, and bones. Additional complications of bladder cancer include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you have blood in your urine or other symptoms of bladder cancer, including:

Also, call your health care provider for an appointment if:

Prevention    Return to top

Quitting cigarette smoking and eliminating environmental hazards will reduce your risk of developing bladder cancer.

References    Return to top

Bajorin D. Tumors of the kidney, bladder, ureters, and renal pelvis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia , Pa : Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 207.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Bladder Cancer, Including Upper Tract Tumors and Urothelial Carcinoma of the Prostate. 2009. Version 1.2009.

Update Date: 2/12/2009

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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