What Is Bladder Cancer? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Over 90 percent of bladder cancer cases develop in the tissue lining the inside of the organ.

Bladder cancer is cancer that forms in your urinary bladder, the muscular sac that stores urine.

This balloon-shaped organ is located in your pelvis. Urine made by the kidneys goes into your bladder for storage.

The bladder consists of several layers, including a muscular wall. The muscle relaxes to allow the bladder to fill with urine, and contracts to allow urination.

Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow out of control. Cancer cells can form tumor masses and may invade other nearby tissues.

Types of Bladder Cancer

Most bladder cancer develops in the tissue that lines the inside of the bladder.

This tissue is called urothelium, or transitional epithelium, and cancer that develops here is called transitional cell carcinoma. More than 90 percent of all bladder cancers are this type of cancer.

When bladder cancer affects only the inner lining of the bladder, it is called superficial bladder cancer.

More advanced bladder cancer may spread into other layers of the bladder wall, or may pass into lymph nodes in the pelvis. This is called invasive bladder cancer.

Invasive bladder cancer is harder to treat and is more likely to spread to other tissues and organs in the body.

Who Gets Bladder Cancer?

In the United States, about 74,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year. About 16,000 people die from the disease each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Bladder cancer ranks as the fourth most common cancer in men, and the eighth most common cause of cancer death in men.

The vast majority of people with bladder cancer is over the age of 55. The average age at diagnosis is 73, notes the American Cancer Society.

Men are more likely than women to develop bladder cancer, and whites are more likely to get it than African-Americans.

Your risk of developing bladder cancer increases if you:

  • Smoke tobacco
  • Work with chemicals or industrial materials such as dyes, rubber, leather, metals, petroleum, textiles, paints, or diesel fumes
  • Were born with a bladder defect
  • Have a history of chronic bladder infections, kidney stones, or other bladder disorders
  • Have had to use a bladder catheter for a long time
  • Have previously received certain types of chemotherapy drugs, or radiation to the pelvis
  • Have a history of infection with a bladder parasite (rare in the United States)
  • Have a family history of bladder cancer
  • Drink water that contains chlorine or arsenic
  • Use the Chinese herb Aristolochia fangchi

Bladder Cancer Outlook

As with most types of cancer, a smaller and more-contained tumor is associated with a better prognosis (outlook).

Bladder cancer that is limited to the bladder's innermost lining has the best prognosis. Luckily, most bladder cancers fall into this category.

The situation is more concerning if there are cancer cells:

  • That have spread through and beyond the muscular wall of the bladder
  • In the fat surrounding the bladder
  • Within a man's prostate or a woman's uterus or vagina
  • In the abdominal or pelvic wall
  • In the pelvic lymph nodes
  • In distant lymph nodes or other organs (such as the bones, lungs, or liver)

Other factors that can affect the outcome include the specific type of cancer cells involved, whether the cancer has recurred after previous treatments, and the person's age and health.

Learn More About Bladder Cancer Symptoms

Learn More About Bladder Cancer Treatment

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