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Bladder cancer is cancer of the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder is the structure that holds urine produced by the kidneys. Bladder cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the bladder lining grow and form cancerous tumors.

Sometimes the tumor stays in the superficial lining of the bladder. It also can invade the deeper layers of the bladder and spread to other organs.

According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the United States. Nearly 80,000 people develop bladder cancer every year. About 12,000 men and 5,000 women die annually from the disease.

What Causes Bladder Cancer?

The exact cause of bladder cancer is unknown, but smoking tobacco is a major risk factor for developing it.

Other risk factors are:

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Male gender
  • Workplace exposure to certain paints, dyes, metals, or petroleum products
  • Environmental pollution
  • Prior chemotherapy treatment
  • Prior radiation treatments
  • History of bladder infections
  • Taking the diabetes drug pioglitazone for more than one year
  • Using urinary catheters for extended periods of time

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What Are the Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer can have a variety of symptoms including:

  • Blood in urine
  • Painful or frequent urination
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Lower back pain
  • Weight loss for no clear reason
  • Decreased appetite

If you have any of these symptoms, call your medical provider for an appointment to find out if you have bladder cancer or another medical condition.

How Will My Doctor Know I Have Bladder Cancer?

Your doctor will first ask you questions about your health history and perform a thorough physical exam. Your doctor also may recommend the following tests:

  • Urinalysis: Your doctor will ask you to urinate in a cup and analyze the urine for blood.
  • Urine cytology: Doctors will examine your urine under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.
  • Cystoscopy: A cystoscope is a thin instrument with a light and camera that is inserted into the bladder. It is a quick and painless procedure that helps doctors look for any signs of bladder cancer.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy may be needed to determine if a mass is cancerous.
  • Imaging: A CT scan looking at your chest or abdomen and pelvis may be needed to determine the extent of your disease.

Treatment for Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is very treatable in the early stages but can be more difficult to treat if the cancer has progressed.

Your treatment will depend on the stage, grade, and invasiveness of the cancer.

  • Surveillance: Some bladder cancers only require routine cystoscopies and no further treatment.
  • Intravesical treatment: Some bladder cancers require treatment with chemotherapy agents placed inside your bladder. This can help prevent cancer cells from returning.
  • Surgery: Depending on the stage and grade of the tumor, your surgeon may need to perform surgery to treat your bladder cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment uses x-rays focused on a specific organ to kill cancer cells. Doctors sometimes combine radiation with other treatments.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells. Doctors may use chemotherapy to shrink a tumor before surgery or to kill remaining cancer cells after surgery.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy treatments are drugs that boost your immune system, enabling it to attack the cancer cells.

Before treatment, your doctor will consider other health problems you may have. They will also discuss possible side effects of treatment and recovery time.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bladder Cancer. Link.

American Cancer Society, Bladder Cancer. Link.

American Cancer Society, If You Have Bladder Cancer. Link.

American Cancer Society, Bladder Cancer Risk Factors. Link.

National Cancer Institute, Bladder Cancer Treatment. Link., Bladder Cancer: Introduction. Link.

About Urology

The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, including erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer, and more. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. To find a provider near you, visit our website.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.