Bladder Cancer Symptoms, Risks, and Care

Bladder cancer accounts for about five percent of new cancer cases each year.

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we have a commitment to excellence in diagnosing and treating many types of cancer.

Our complete urologic cancer program offers the latest bladder cancer treatments and a full range of advanced services tailored to your needs.

Even if you've received bladder cancer screening or care at another center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has treatment options for you.

What is Bladder Cancer?

The bladder is an organ in your pelvis that holds urine made by the kidneys. Cancer in this organ occurs when cells begin to grow abnormally.

Most bladder cancers begin in the lining of the bladder.

But, cancer cells can also spread throughout the bladder, growing through the layers of tissue. This cancer can spread to nearby organs in the pelvic region or anywhere in the body.

Types of Bladder Cancer

There are a few types of bladder cancer. The most common type is urothelial carcinoma, or transitional cell carcinoma.

Other types are rare, accounting for five percent of all cancers of the bladder:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Small cell carcinoma
  • Sarcoma

Cancers of the bladder are either papillary or flat.

  • Papillary carcinomas grow inward, toward the center of the bladder.
  • Flat carcinomas grow outward.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

The earliest symptoms of this cancer are akin to symptoms of less serious health issues.

Often, the first sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. This can be a small amount of blood or enough to change the color of your urine to orange or red.

Many mistake blood in the urine for a bladder infection.

Other early symptoms of bladder cancer may include:

  • Feeling a strong urge to urinate, even when the bladder is empty.
  • Painful urination.
  • Having to start and stop while urinating.
  • Urinating more often.

As this cancer becomes more advanced, your symptoms may include:

  • Inability to urinate.
  • Feeling unwell, tired, or weak.
  • Low back pain.
  • Weight loss from decreased appetite.
  • Swelling in your feet.

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Even if the cause isn't cancer of the bladder, they may be signs of other health problems that need treatment.

Risk Factors for Bladder Cancer

It's often impossible to pinpoint the direct causes of cancer.

However, we know of some factors that increase a person's risk for bladder cancer:

  • Age over 55.
  • Arsenic exposure.
  • Being male.
  • Birth defects of the bladder.
  • Family history of bladder cancer.
  • History of bladder infections or parasitic bladder infections.
  • History of urinary tract or bladder cancer.
  • Working in the dye, rubber, leather, or paint manufacturing industries.
  • Not drinking enough water.
  • Past cancer treatment.
  • Smoking.
  • Taking the diabetes drug pioglitazone for one year or more.
  • Genetic mutations including:
    • Cowden disease.
    • Lynch Syndrome.
    • Retinoblastoma gene mutation.

Early Stages of Bladder Cancer

When diagnosing bladder cancer, your team looks at:

  • The size of the tumor.
  • The location.
  • If cancer cells have spread.

Your doctor will label your cancer as either:

  • Invasive — cancer that has grown through the bladder's layers.
  • Non-invasive — cancer has not grown past the innermost layer of the bladder.

Your doctor will also assign a grade and stage to your cancer.

When staging your bladder cancer, you doctor assigns three categories:

  1. T for tumor.
  2. N for nodes.
  3. M for metastasis (or spread).

Each letter gets a sub-letter or number to indicate the level of involvement.

Doctors regard low-grade tumors as easier to treat. High-grade bladder cancers are harder to treat and may spread more easily.

Staging is complex, but your cancer care team can answer any of your questions.

Leaders in Bladder Cancer Research and Education

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center conducts bladder cancer research and is the region’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

This allows us to give you early access to some of the newest bladder cancer treatments through clinical trials. Many of these cutting-edge treatments may not be available elsewhere.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center also offers risk reduction education and early detection services for many types of cancers.

Contact Us About Urologic Cancer Care

To learn more about urologic cancer care or to make an appointment, you can: