What is Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer is the growth of abnormal tissue (tumour) in the bladder. There are several stages of bladder cancer. Your treatment and experience will depend on the specific characteristics of the tumour (referred to as “staging” the tumour) and the expertise of your medical team.
This section provides general information about bladder cancer, diagnosis, and various treatment options. Discuss with your doctor what is best in your individual situation.
The function of the bladder
The urinary bladder (referred to as ‘the bladder’) is the organ that collects and stores urine produced by the kidneys. It is a hollow stretchy bag made of muscle tissue that sits on the pelvic floor muscles. The bladder expands as urine from the kidneys collects before being passed out of the body through the urethra.
Stages of the disease
A tumour that grows towards the centre cavity of the bladder without growing into the muscle tissue of the bladder is called non-muscle invasive. These tumours are superficial and represent an early stage. This is the most common type of bladder cancer. In most cases, these tumours are not aggressive and rarely spread to other organs, so they are not usually lethal, they can however appear again (=recurrence) or develop aggressive features (=progression).
As the cancer grows into the muscle of the bladder and spreads into the surrounding muscles, it becomes muscle- invasive bladder cancer. This type of cancer has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body (metastatic disease) and is harder to treat. In some cases, it may be fatal.
If bladder cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes or other organs, it is called locally-advanced or metastatic bladder cancer. At this stage, cure is unlikely, and treatment is limited to controlling the spread of the disease and reducing the symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of bladder cancer
Blood in the urine is the most common symptom when a bladder tumour is present. Tumours in the bladder lining (non–muscle-invasive) do not cause bladder pain and usually do not present with lower urinary tract symptoms (urge to urinate, irritation).
If you have urinary tract symptoms such as painful urination or need to urinate more often, a malignant tumour might be suspected, particularly if an infection is ruled out or treated and this does not reduce the symptoms. Muscle-invasive bladder cancer can cause symptoms as it grows into the muscle of the bladder and spreads into the surrounding muscles.
Symptoms like pelvic pain, pain in the flank, weight loss, or the feeling of a mass in the lower abdomen may be present in some cases when tumours are more advanced.