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Everything You Need to Know About Bladder Cancer

Empower yourself with comprehensive knowledge about bladder cancer, its risks, and treatment.

  • 12 Sep 2023
  • 5 min read

Bladder cancer, although still unknown in India, has emerged as a significant health concern. As the name suggests, it occurs when cells in the bladder become cancerous, and if left untreated, can have severe complications. The good news is that there is plenty of information available to help understand this form of cancer and its treatment options. Whether you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed with bladder cancer, or if you simply want to learn more about this disease, it's important to have a basic understanding of what it means. In this article, we will understand what is bladder cancer, what are the symptoms of bladder cancer, and its causes. We will also understand the types of bladder cancer, the risks associated with it, as well as the process of diagnosing bladder cancer and its treatment. We will also look at its treatment, outlook towards it, and how to prevent it.


What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer develops when there is growth and multiplication of abnormal cells in the bladder. These abnormal cells in the bladder have the tendency to convert into a tumour and have the ability to spread to other organs in the body.

Other forms of cancer have the potential to extend to the bladder, but the name of the cancer is known by the organ from where it originates. This severe disease is the seventh most common form of cancer worldwide.


Symptoms of bladder cancer

So, what are the symptoms of bladder cancer? A number of varying symptoms can be identified among individuals such as:

  • Presence of blood in the urine, making its appearance bright red or rust-colored, and sometimes invisible.
  • Pain during urination.
  • Frequent urge to urinate.
  • Sudden urge for urination.
  • Unintentional leakage in the bladder, known as urine incontinence.

Bladder cancer is known to have other symptoms as well, if it has affected other parts of the body, namely:

  • Discomfort in the abdomen
  • One-sided pain in the lower body
  • Fatigue
  • Losing weight without any exercise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling in feet

Causes of bladder cancer

Cancer mainly arises when mutations in the cell lead to their growth of abnormal and unwanted growth, resulting in the rapid multiplication of these cells. If left untreated, this can lead to the spread of these cells to other tissues and muscles. These mutations can be caused by certain factors like exposure to toxic chemicals.

Certain other conditions also come into play that increase our chances of developing bladder cancer. This includes smoking, family history of cancer,radiation therapy and more.


Risk factors associated with bladder cancer

There are a number of factors associated with the growth of bladder cancer cells, which may include:

  • Smoking cigarettes (Research points out that people who smoke cigarettes on a regular basis are three times more likely to develop bladder cancer in comparison to a person who is a non-smoker)
  • Being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer such as dyes, paint products, rubber, and metal among the few
  • Family history of the disease
  • Suffer from schistosomiasis a parasite that is known to cause bladder infection
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Certain supplements and medicine consumption
  • Prior exposure to chemotherapy medications cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) or ifosfamide (lfex)
  • Radiation treatment used to treat pelvic area cancer
  • Suffering from bladder infections frequently
  • Use of urinary catheters for a long time
  • Drinking fluids inadequately
  • Defects in the bladder

While cancer can affect just about anyone, there are certain other factors that can influence your risk of developing cancer:

  • If you are a male by birth
  • You fall into the age group of 55 or above

You have a white complexion

Also read:

Types of bladder cancer

Bladder cancer is classified based on the specific cells involved that turn abnormal. This classification encompasses:

Transitional Cell Carcinoma

It is also known as urothelial carcinoma. It is a prevalent form of bladder cancer. It initiates within transitional cells located in the bladder's inner layer. These adaptable cells can change shape without impairment when the bladder tissue stretches.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This bladder cancer develops after prolonged bladder infection or irritation. This type emerges from thin, flat squamous cells within the bladder. These cells undergo changes due to extended irritation.


It is formed from glandular cells following persistent bladder inflammation. Adenocarcinoma involves cells that compose mucus-secreting glands in the body.

Small Cell Carcinoma

It originates in neuroendocrine cells. These cells release hormones into the bloodstream under the guidance of the nervous system's signals.


How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosing bladder cancer involves various steps if you have symptoms or lab findings or urinalysis results suggest it. After reviewing the patient’s medical history, the doctor might also conduct a physical exam, which might include checking for lumps in the vagina or rectum. Then your doctor can order tests for a conclusive diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Cystoscopy: A slender tube with a camera is inserted via your urethra to see inside the bladder.
  • Biopsy: A small bladder tissue sample is taken for cancer testing.
  • CT Scan or IVP: These scans offer detailed bladder views.
  • Urine Tumor Marker Test: Identifies certain bladder cancer types.

Further tests might be needed to stage the cancer and detect its presence in other body areas. These include CT scans, MRI scans, chest X-rays, and bone scans.

To communicate the extent of the spread of cancer, doctors use the staging system:

  • Stage 0: It means that the cancer is limited to the bladder lining.
  • Stage 1: It means that the cancer has spread beyond the lining but not to the muscle layer.
  • Stage 2: It means that the cancer has extended to the bladder muscle.
  • Stage 3: It means that the cancer has progressed to surrounding tissues.
  • Stage 4: It means that the cancer has reached neighboring regions

Stages can also be detailed further to provide a clearer picture of the cancer's spread.

How is bladder cancer treated?

Bladder cancer treatment depends upon the stage of the cancer and other factors like your overall health. Your doctor will collaborate with you to devise the most suitable plan.

For stage 0 and 1 bladder cancer, treatment options include:

  • Surgery: To eliminate the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: Employing drugs to target cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Medications that stimulate your immune system to attack cancer cells.

Stage 2 and 3 bladder cancer treatments may involve:

  • Partial Bladder Removal: Extracting a portion of the bladder.
  • Radical Cystectomy: Removing the entire bladder, followed by creating a new path for urine exit.
  • Chemotherapy: Medication-based cancer treatment.
  • Radiation Therapy: Precisely directed radiation to target cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: Stimulating your immune system against cancer.

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy serve various purposes, such as shrinking tumors pre-surgery, addressing cancer without surgery, managing residual cancer cells post-surgery, and preventing cancer recurrence.

Stage 4 bladder cancer treatments encompass:

  • Radical Cystectomy: Removing bladder and nearby lymph nodes, followed by a new urine exit pathway.
  • Chemotherapy: Medications for cancer treatment.
  • Radiation Therapy: Directed radiation.
  • Immunotherapy: Enhancing immune response.
  • Clinical Trial Drugs: Investigational treatments.

The patient’s overall health determines whether treatments focus on cancer cell removal or alleviating symptoms. Patients can also choose to participate in clinical trials to explore new treatment avenues.


Outlook towards bladder cancer

The outlook depends upon various factors, including the stage and type of cancer, age factor, overall health of an individual, and prevailing medical condition and response to the cancer treatment.

As per the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the five-year survival rates of bladder cancer are 71% for cancer that has not gone beyond the bladder. For cancer that has reached near the lymph nodes the survival rate is 39%.  It is 8% for metastatic bladder cancer that has extended to the other parts of the body.  For carcinoma in situ that has not spread beyond the bladder lining the survival rate is around 97%.

Healthcare professionals use the 5-year survival rate to show how a disease is expected to turn out. It shows us the percentage of people who were diagnosed with bladder cancer and are still alive after 5 years of disease diagnosis. It is based on averages and may not predict a patient’s life expectancy.


Prevention against bladder cancer

It is not yet exactly known what causes bladder cancer, be it urinary bladder cancer or gallbladder cancer. But, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of bladder cancer. Chief among these is quitting smoking or avoiding it altogether if you currently smoke. Secondhand smoke should also be evaded to limit exposure. Furthermore, safeguarding yourself from carcinogenic chemicals is essential. In case you work with such substances make sure you use appropriate safety equipment when working with such substances. Another beneficial measure is to maintain good hydration by drinking plenty of water.



Now that you understand this bladder cancer better, it's important to be aware of how you are vulnerable or connected to someone who has bladder cancer. This could involve knowing more about family history, getting the right health insurance, being mindful of any persistent changes in your body, and lastly remaining aware about other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Ultimately, it's up to each individual to take responsibility when recognizing the severity of bladder cancer; however, if diagnosed correctly and at an early stage, recovery should not be a far-fetched dream. With these tips in mind, you can join the fight against bladder cancer and support those who have been affected by it.

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