Bladder Cancer Symptoms and Treatment

Located in your pelvis, the bladder is a hollow organ that is responsible for holding urine, a liquid waste product created by the kidneys. Urine is stored within the muscular walls of the bladder until it is forced out of the bladder through the urethra during the urination process.

Bladder cancer is a form of urologic cancer that occurs when cells that make up the bladder begin to multiply. As the cells continue to grow out of control, they may form a tumor. If not controlled, this tumor may grow and spread beyond the layers of tissue to other parts of the body.

Most bladder cancers begin in the lining of the bladder.

Learn more about bladder cancer types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

Why Choose Us for Bladder Cancer Care

State-of-the-Art Bladder Cancer Treatment In New Jersey

RWJBarnabas Health, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, meets the highest standards in bladder cancer research, treatment, prevention and education. We offer access to the full spectrum of therapeutic procedures and advanced urologic cancer and bladder cancer treatment options including clinical trials, radiation therapy techniques and complex surgical procedures.

Logos of The Rutgers Cancer Center of New Jersey-Rutgers Health and NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center

New Jersey’s Largest Network of Cancer Specialists

Our integrated care model for bladder cancer treatment includes the state’s largest network of cancer specialists, working together to ensure the greatest patient outcomes. The team includes:

  • medical oncologists
  • radiation oncologists
  • Urologic cancer surgeons
  • Urologists
  • Advanced practice nurses and certified technicians with enhanced credentials in cancer specialty care
  • Nurse navigators
  • Nutrition experts
  • Oncology support professionals

Oncology Nurse Navigators Guide You Through Your Bladder Cancer Journey

Our oncology nurse navigators help patients through their bladder cancer journeys, from securing initial appointments to coordinating follow-up visits related to treatments and procedures, all the way through aspects of survivorship. Oncology nurse navigators also can refer you to social workers or financial counselors for matters about health insurance, financial concerns and other challenges.

Types of Bladder Cancer

The main types of bladder cancer include:

  • Urothelial carcinoma (UCC). Formerly called transitional cell carcinoma or TCC, this type of bladder cancer begins in the urothelial cells that line the urinary tract. It accounts for about 90 percent of all bladder cancers, as well as 10 percent to 15 percent of kidney cancers that are diagnosed in adults.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. When the bladder lining becomes irritated or inflamed, squamous cells develop in response. Over time, these cells may become cancerous. It accounts for approximately 4 percent of all bladder cancers. Nearly all squamous cell carcinomas are invasive.
  • Small cell carcinoma. This unusual type of bladder cancer starts in the neuroendocrine cells, which are the nerve-like cells in the bladder. They occur in less than 1 percent of the cases of bladder cancer but tend to develop quickly and require rapid treatment.
  • Adenocarcinoma. This somewhat rare type of bladder cancer typically affects older adults. Developing from glandular cells, it may be a primary or secondary form of cancer. Approximately 2 percent of all bladder cancers develop from glandular cells.
  • Carcinoma. This rare form of bladder cancer begins to develop in the muscle cells of the bladder.

Bladder Cancer Causes

Like many other cancers, the exact bladder cancer causes are unknown. There are, however, a number of lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors associated with increasing your likelihood of developing bladder cancer.

  • Smoking. Cigarette smoking is known as the most significant bladder cancer cause. Quitting smoking may dramatically reduce your risk of developing bladder cancer and other forms of cancer.
  • Family history. Individuals who have a close family member with bladder cancer have an increased risk of developing it. This association may be due to certain gene mutations that are passed down in the family.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals. Another one of the bladder cancer causes is chronic exposure to industrial chemicals, such as those used in paint, dye, metal, or petroleum products.
  • Chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs). Those who have had repeated UTIs have an increased chance of developing bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer Symptoms

Bladder cancer symptoms may vary from patient to patient, with many patients showing no symptoms in the early stages. Some symptoms may be associated with other health conditions, which should also be addressed by a medical doctor. Signs of bladder cancer can include the following:

  • Blood in the urine. This is the most common bladder cancer symptom which may be detected in their urine stream by observing a rusty or reddish tint. Trace amounts of blood in the urine may be detected even earlier in lab tests.
  • Frequent urination. Many of those who have bladder cancer experience the need to urinate frequently.
  • Pain while urinating. Another bladder cancer symptom often reported by patients is pain while urinating.
  • Pelvic pain. In bladder cancer, the tumor may cause pain to radiate to nearby areas in the body such as the pelvis.
  • Back pain. Pain that travels to the back is another one of the potential signs of bladder cancer that has been reported by patients.

Bladder Cancer Staging

Bladder cancer staging is determined through diagnostic testing. This system uses numbers and letters to classify cancer by severity. It describes where the bladder cancer is located, whether or not it has spread beyond the wall of the bladder, and whether it has begun to affect other areas of the body. Staging also informs your oncologist of the best bladder cancer treatment options for you.

Bladder Cancer Screening

Becoming knowledgeable about the potential signs of bladder cancer makes early detection possible. Early detection helps achieve a better bladder cancer prognosis and patient outcome. Although there is no standardized screening test to diagnose bladder cancer, there are lab and imaging tests that are instrumental in determining a diagnosis.

  • Urinalysis. This test checks for blood in the urine, which is one of the leading signs of bladder cancer.
  • Urine cytology. A urine sample is examined under a microscope for the presence of bladder cancer cells.
  • Tests for tumor markers. Recent technological advancements in lab tests allow pathologists to look for tumor markers that could indicate signs of bladder cancer. The markers include substances, antigens, proteins or chromosomal changes that could indicate signs of bladder cancer.
  • Ultrasound. Using high-frequency waves, this imaging test creates pictures of your bladder to look for tumors or other signs of bladder cancer.
  • Computerized tomography (CT or CAT scan). Using X-rays and computerized technology, this imaging test produces detailed images of the internal structures in the body. Capable of producing cross-sectional “slices,” it can show masses, tumors and other abnormalities that may indicate bladder cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and powerful magnets, an MRI produces highly-detailed images of the internal structures of the body that can pinpoint areas that may have been affected by bladder cancer, including blood vessels.
  • Cystoscopy. This procedure looks inside the bladder and urethra for tumors through the use of a thin, flexible tube equipped with a camera. It is usually used to screen patients who have shown signs of bladder cancer through imaging methods or on those who have had bladder cancer in the past.
  • Biopsy. If a tumor is detected through an imaging method, a biopsy, or tissue sample is taken while the patient is under sedation. It is then submitted to a laboratory and examined under a microscope to scan for irregularities in order to make a bladder cancer diagnosis.

Bladder Cancer Treatment

Your bladder cancer treatment will depend on the stage of your cancer, existing health conditions and other factors. Treatment may involve a combination of surgical and non-surgical bladder cancer treatments that may include:

Bladder Cancer Surgeries

  • Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT). This surgery is a common treatment for early-stage bladder cancer. It is performed without incisions as it goes through the urethra and includes both a biopsy and tumor removal.
  • Partial cystectomy. This procedure involves the partial removal of the bladder and is performed when the bladder cancer has invaded the bladder wall but is still fairly small in size. As part of this procedure, the lymph nodes are also removed and tested for evidence of cancer. With this surgery, the patient can retain use of their bladder, but with limited capacity.
  • Radical cystectomy. For bladder cancers with tumors that are large in size or in multiple locations in the bladder, a radical cystectomy may be performed. It involves the complete removal of the bladder and nearby lymph nodes. In men, it also involves the removal of the prostate and seminal vesicles. In women, it also involves the removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, cervix and a small part of the vagina. Reconstructive surgery will be required after this surgery to allow your body to store and pass urine.

Nonsurgical Bladder Cancer Treatments

  • Chemotherapy. This bladder cancer treatment uses one or more medicines to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. Often administered in cycles.
  • Immunotherapy. This bladder cancer treatment uses medicines to trigger your immune system to fight the cancer by attacking the cancer cells. Different categories of immunotherapy drugs are designed to address different aspects of cancer.
  • Radiation therapy. A radiation oncologist treats bladder cancer through the use of high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be performed:
    • As a primary treatment for people with early-stage bladder cancer who are not candidates for surgery or chemotherapy
    • As part of a treatment for some early stages of bladder cancer after surgery
    • Administered as a means to avoid bladder removal surgery
    • As part of advanced bladder cancer treatment for more advanced stages
  • Targeted therapy. Newer types of medications known as targeted therapy or precision medicine are alternative bladder cancer treatments that work differently from chemotherapy. These drugs have been developed to target changes within cancer cells that prompt them to grow and spread bladder cancer.

At RWJBarnabas Health, we understand that your approach to bladder cancer treatment is a highly personal and individualized one. Have a meaningful dialogue with your physician including discussing your staging, risk factors, and possible side effects to your treatment options.

Leading Bladder Cancer Treatment in New Jersey

As part of the largest health network in New Jersey, RWJBarnabas Health’s bladder cancer team is led by highly knowledgeable bladder cancer surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, urologists, advanced practice nurses and certified technicians who provide superior bladder cancer treatment to our patients.

Equipped with the latest technology, we can identify the first signs of bladder cancer and manage your bladder cancer symptoms with leading-edge diagnosis as well as therapeutic, treatment and surgical options. Using our experience, resources and access to clinical trials, we surpass cancer care standards with improved outcomes.

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best bladder cancer specialists, call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

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