Here’s What Everyone Should Know About Bladder Cancer

Here’s What Everyone Should Know About Bladder Cancer

When diagnosed with bladder cancer, there are probably a lot of questions running through one’s mind about this disease and what caused it.

Bladder cancer is defined as any cancer involving the soft tissues of the urinary bladder. It’s one of the most common forms of cancer that doctors diagnose every year and affects approximately 68,000 American adults every year. [1] Fortunately, bladder cancer is often diagnosed early, because the symptoms manifest in more obvious ways than many other forms of cancer. An early diagnosis is extremely beneficial to the patient and makes the prognosis much more favorable. It’s most common to diagnose bladder cancer in adults between 65 and 85 years of age.

While signs and symptoms of bladder cancer will be explored in detail below, it’s important to first acknowledge that one of the biggest known contributors to the potential of a diagnosis of bladder cancer is smoking tobacco. Smoking is associated with more than half of bladder cancer cases in male patients, and with one-third of cases involving female patients. [2] Another factor that can contribute to a patient’s potential for developing bladder cancer is exposure to carcinogens like benzidine, a chemical compound found in a variety of materials like leather, rubber, and even permanent hair dye.

If one believes they may be vulnerable to bladder cancer because of their current lifestyle, it’s important to consult a doctor immediately. They will be able to help reassure you or complete the diagnosis protocol if they think your symptoms merit further exploration.

What is Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer is a form of cancer, and it begins when the bladder’s healthy cells change and mutate out of control. The result is a tumor, which usually develops from the cells in the bladder’s lining. [3]

Sometimes the tumors that occur in these situations are benign, which means that the individual tumor itself could continue to grow, but it will not spread to other tissue and organs in the body. Most often, the tumors found in the bladder are malignant, and can and will spread to other parts of the body.

There are various different types of tumors that can be found. Urothelial carcinomas, which are tumors that start with the urothelial cells, make up roughly 90 percent of all cases. Squamous cell carcinomas develop in the lining of the bladder but only in response to pre-existing inflammation and irritation. These tumors may begin benignly but could become cancerous over time. An adenocarcinoma develops from glandular cells, and only makes up about two percent of all cases of bladder cancer.

Typically, after beginning in the bladder, if a tumor is cancerous, it will spread (metastasize) first to the lymph nodes, then into the liver, bones, and lungs. If you’re diagnosed with bladder cancer, you’ll typically be given information as to where your tumor is located, as well as a grade, which describes how the cancer cells look under a microscope.

Signs and Symptoms

Fortunately, bladder cancer is one type of cancer that is typically diagnosed in the early stages, because the symptoms are quite noticeable. [4]

One of the very first symptoms that patients begin to notice is the phenomenon of hematuria, the appearance of blood in the urine, which makes the urine appear either bright red or brown. Hematuria is a sign of several conditions, one of which is bladder cancer. When the amount of blood in the urine has become visible instead of microscopic, it is then described as gross hematuria. Typically, microscopic hematuria is only caught if the doctor happens to be doing a urine test and sees the blood in the microscope.

Other common symptoms include blood clots in the urine, painful urination, frequent urination, and lower back pain on one side of the body. Any of these symptoms should be taken seriously. Other symptoms like abdominal pain, coughing, and jaundice presenting alongside these symptoms could mean that the cancerous cells in the bladder have already spread to other parts of the body.

Common Treatment Options

If your doctor is concerned that you may have bladder cancer, he or she will use a few different tests to determine whether there is cancer present, where it’s located, and the severity of the tumor. A urine test is usually the first step, followed by a cystoscopy, which uses a small, flexible camera to look inside the bladder and see whether there is abnormal tissue. [5] If there is abnormal tissue present, a biopsy will be able to assess the severity of the tumor.

There are many different treatment options available for people who have been diagnosed with bladder cancer, and they vary widely depending on the location and severity of the tumor, whether it’s malignant or benign, and whether or not the tumor has integrated itself into the muscles both inside and outside the bladder walls. [6]

One of the first options for treatment is surgery, where the tumor as well as some healthy tissue is removed. If the tumor was invasive, this could result in a urinary diversion, where the entire bladder is removed, and a section of the small intestine is used to pass waste from the body into an ostomy or stoma outside of the body. Another option which your doctor will use both separately and in conjunction with surgery is chemotherapy, where a combination of drugs is used to kill off cancerous cells. Immunotherapy is often used alongside chemotherapy- a selection of drugs that are given to the patient to help boost their body’s natural defenses against the cancer cells. Radiation therapy is the final treatment option, and it’s usually given in conjunction with chemotherapy. If you undergo radiation, your oncologist will use high-energy particles like x-rays to destroy cancer cells.

Alternate Treatments

There are many ways that you can help your body be in the best shape possible to fight off invasive cancer cells. The most important thing you can do to limit your risk factor for bladder cancer is to avoid smoking. If you already smoke, it is imperative that you stop as soon as possible. Always be careful around chemicals, and if you’re working with materials or products that contain known carcinogens, take precautions and follow all safety instructions.

If you’re undergoing treatment, try and keep up your strength by sticking to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially those containing selenium, like carrots. Evidence has also shown that people who drink at least 1.4 L of water every day have much lower rates of bladder cancer compared to those who drink less. [7]

Managing the mental health side effects of a cancer diagnosis is also extremely important. If you’re feeling sad, anxious, or stressed out, talk to a mental health professional like a therapist, who will be able to help you devise personalized strategies for coping with your diagnosis and the rigors of ongoing treatment.


  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Bladder Cancer.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Dec. 2017,
  2. Zeegers, Maurice P. A., et al. “The Impact of Characteristics of Cigarette Smokingon Urinary Tract Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis of Epidemiologic Studies.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 13 Nov. 2000,
  3. “Bladder Cancer: Introduction.” Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), 15 Mar. 2018,
  4. “Bladder Cancer: Symptoms and Signs.” Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), 15 Mar. 2018,
  5. “Bladder Cancer: Diagnosis.” Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), 15 Mar. 2018,
  6. “Bladder Cancer: Treatment Options.” Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), 15 Mar. 2018,
  7. Valtin, Heinz, and Sheila A. Gorman. “‘Drink at Least Eight Glasses of Water a Day.’ Really? Is There Scientific Evidence for ‘8 × 8’?” American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, vol. 283, no. 5, 1 Nov. 2002, doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00365.2002.