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What is Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer is often considered a disease of the elderly with a median age at diagnosis of 73 years, and more than 40 percent of the diagnoses in patients over age 75. It is a leading cause of cancer-related mortality in patients over the age of 80. With life expectancy in the United States continuing to rise, it is expected that incidence rates of bladder cancer among this population will increase.

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. Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case bladder cells, divide without control or order. Sometimes, cells divide uncontrollably when new cells are not needed. A mass of tissue called a growth or tumor can form. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors that can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Three main types of cancer affect the bladder. They are named for the type of cell that becomes cancerous and include:

  • Transitional cell (urothelial) carcinoma (TCC)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma

Risk Factors

The cause of bladder cancer is unknown. However, several risk factors have been identified that may increase your chance of developing bladder cancer, which include:

  • Smoking
  • Increased age: The majority of people with bladder cancer are between 65 and 85 years old.
  • Occupation due to exposure to certain substances:
    • 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
  • Radiation treatment of the pelvis
  • Bladder birth defects
  • 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


Symptoms may be caused by other less serious health conditions, such as bladder stones or infection. The symptoms of bladder cancer may include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • 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 ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done and your doctor will feel the abdomen and pelvis for abnormalities. The physical exam may include a rectal or vaginal exam.

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.

Staging tests are done after bladder cancer is found. These tests find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. Treatments for bladder cancer depend on the stage of the cancer. The stages of bladder cancer are:

  • Stage 0: Cancer cells are found only on the surface of the inner lining of the bladder.
  • Stage 1: Cancer cells are found deep in the inner lining of the bladder; no lymph nodes are involved.
  • Stage 2: Cancer cells have spread to the muscle of the bladder; no lymph nodes are involved.
  • Stage 3: Cancer cells have spread through the muscular wall of the bladder to the layer of tissue surrounding the bladder OR possibly to the reproductive organs including the prostate glands; no lymph nodes are involved.
  • Stage 4: Cancer cells extending outside the bladder to the wall of the abdomen or to the wall of the pelvis without lymph node involvement OR have spread to one or more lymph nodes and other parts of the body.


Learn more about how to reduce your risks of getting bladder cancer. 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.


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Bladder Cancer Treatments

At the Bladder Cancer Center, our team uses a state-of-the-art less invasive approach, along with traditional methods, to treat bladder cancer. Read more about bladder cancer treatments...

Treatment Guide

Download a free robotic-assisted radical cystectomy treatment guide to help you become a more informed patient.

Our Services

We provide patients with a multitude of services and high quality care for the management and treatment of bladder cancer. Read more about our services...

Our Team

Every patient meets with our multidisciplinary team of expert specialists. Read more about the team...

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