Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Tests For Bladder Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Bladder cancer, as the name suggests, is a type of cancer than begins in your bladder, which is the hollow, muscular organ in your pelvic region, where urine is stored. In most instances the cancer begins in the cells that are present in the inner lining of the bladder. There are several types of malignant growth or tumors that can crop up in the urinary bladder, leading to bladder cancer. This disease causes the abnormal cells in the bladder to multiply uncontrollably. Patients suffering from this condition usually notice certain signs and symptoms, causing them to undergo a checkup. There are three different categories of bladder cancer, which include:

  • Transitional cell carcinoma, occurring in the cells lining the inside of the bladder.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which occurs due to irritation and infections.
  • Adenocarcinoma, which mainly forms in the cells that form the mucus-secreting glands of one's bladder.

Due to many reasons, bladder cancer is usually detected at an early stage, when it is highly treatable. Unfortunately, even after being treated in the initial phase, this type of cancer is likely to recur. This is why those who survive bladder cancer are required to go through follow-up tests and treatment for years after getting rid of the cancer. The frequency of the treatment depends on several different factors, mainly the type of cancer. In case you suffered from less aggressive cancer, your screening tests will be conducted less often. People with the aggressive form of cancer are usually asked to go in for regular screening.

Though this type of cancer can affect people of all ages, it is a lot more common in adults, than it is in children and teens. The exact causes of this condition are not quite clear, though health experts believe that certain factors can increase your risks of developing bladder cancer.

Tests Recommended

There are different types and kinds of bladder cancer tests that your surgeon may ask you to undergo, for a proper diagnosis.

Given below are some of the recommended bladder cancer tests:

  • Cystoscopy: During the test, a doctor will insert a tube that is narrow enough called cytoscope through the urethra. This device has a fiber-optic lighting system and a lens, which allow the doctor to take a look at the insides of the bladder and urethra. You will probably be given local anesthesia for this procedure.
  • Biopsy: While conducting the cystoscopy procedure, the doctor may also use a tool to remove a cell sample from the urethra. This sample then undergoes lab tests, to determine the severity of the cancer and to gauge its chances of recurring.
  • Urine cytology: For this test, a urine sample is studied under the microscope in order to diagnose the presence of cancer cells in the urine.
  • Imaging tests: These tests make it easier for your doctor to take a look at how the urinary tract is structured and affectedt. Imaging tests could include x rays, CT scans and MRIs.

Most doctors ask patients to undergo imaging tests or a bone scan, to establish the stage of cancer and its severity, even after a diagnosis of bladder cancer is confirmed. There are 4 different stages a person would go through when it comes to bladder cancer, which include:

  • Stage 1, where the cancer is seen in the inner lining of the bladder, without having affected the muscular bladder wall of the individual.
  • Stage 2, in which the cancer will have invaded the muscular walls, but remains confined only to the bladder and nowhere else in the body.
  • Stage 3, which occurs when the cancer causing cells infect the bladder walls and spread to the surrounding tissue. In men, the cells can multiply to reach the prostate and in women the cells can spread to the vagina or even the uterus.
  • Stage 4, by which the cancer cells will probably affect also the lymph nodes, bones and the other organs in the body.


The exact causes of bladder cancer are still not clear, though there are several theories. Cancer in the bladder occurs when the healthy cells that are present in the organ go awry. Instead of growing in the normal, orderly way, these cells develop mutations, causing them to grow out of control. Moreover, these cells do not die after a while, like the normal cells do. Therefore, mutated, abnormal cells collect together to form a tumor.

Researchers and health care experts are still trying to determine the reasons why some people develop bladder cancer, while the others don't. It is believed that certain factors can increase your risks of getting this form of cancer. Given below are some of the potential bladder cancer causes:

Controllable Causes

As the name suggests, controllable causes refer to those factors that contribute towards cancer, but are within your control. This means that you can reduce the risks of suffering from bladder cancer, by taking the right steps at an early stage.


  • Smoking: This is one of the most common causes of most types of cancer, including bladder cancer. When you smoke cigarettes, pipes and cigars, harmful chemicals get accumulated in your urine. Your body processes these chemicals and tries to excrete some of them, through urine. The lining of your bladder gets damaged by these chemicals, increasing your chances of developing bladder cancer.
  • Diet: Not many people realize the importance of a healthy diet, in the prevention of cancer. A strong and healthy immune system usually helps combat the abnormal cells in the body, preventing them from growing out of hand. Therefore, your diet needs to comprise of foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Low fluid consumption could also increase bladder cancer risks.
  • Chemical exposures: Your kidneys filter the harmful chemicals in your bloodstream, moving them into the bladder. Therefore, excess exposure to certain chemicals can increase your risks of developing cancer. The chemicals that have been linked to bladder cancer usually include arsenic as well as the chemicals that are used in the manufacture of dyes, paints, rubber, textiles and leather.

Uncontrollable Causes

Several cases of bladder cancer occur due to factors that cannot be controlled by a patient. These factors that lead to cancer are usually referred to as uncontrollable causes.

  • Increasing age: Though this form of cancer can occur in anyone, it is rarely found in people who are below the age of 40. Your risks of developing bladder cancer increase with age.
  • Sex: For unknown reasons, it has been seen that as compared to women, men are a bit more susceptible to bladder cancer.
  • Race: Studies indicate that those who are white are at a greater risk of developing bladder cancer, as compared to people of other races.
  • Genetics: In case there is a history of bladder cancer in your family, where a parent or a sibling has suffered from this condition, it is quite possible that you may develop it too. However, many health experts claim that it is rare for bladder cancer to run in families.
  • Birth defects: Before you are born your belly button and bladder are connected to each other. However, by the time you are born, the connection disappears. In case, for any reason, the connection does not go away even after birth, it can become cancerous. Another rare birth defect known as exstrophy could also increase bladder cancer risks.


Bladder cancer symptoms are usually noticed by people when they pass urine or even when they feel the urge to urinate. Given below are some of the most commonly experienced bladder cancer symptoms:

  • Pain during urination.
  • Changes in the color of the urine, where it appears dark yellow, brown (cola colored) or bright red.
  • Hematuria, characterized by the presence of blood or at times blood clots in urine. If the blood or the clots are visible to the naked eye, it is known as gross hematuria and in case they are detectable only under a microscope, it is referred to as microscopic hematuria.
  • Polyuria or an increase in the frequency of urination is another condition that could point to bladder cancer. In this condition, patients feel the urge to urinate, without any results.
  • Moderate to intense pain experienced in your back or the abdomen.

In several instances, patients suffering from this condition experience loss in appetite, followed by severe weight loss and anemia.

Unfortunately, most of the symptoms of bladder cancer are not exclusive to the condition and can be caused by non-cancerous conditions such as cystitis and prostate infections (in men). Nevertheless, these symptoms should never be ignored or treated lightly. It is absolutely essential for you to consult your doctor at the earliest in case you happen to notice any of the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer. Your doctor will advise you to go through a series of tests to identify the possible causes of the symptoms. This could help diagnose the condition in its early stages, when it is still highly treatable.


It is a well-known fact that getting cancer treated is a long process and this applies to bladder cancer treatment too. There are several different factors that determine the treatment options suitable for you, such as the type of cancer, the stage in which the cancer is, your age and your overall health. Do set up an appointment with your doctor so that you can discuss the pros and cons of all the different bladder cancer treatment options, before choosing the one that you think suits you the best.

Surgery for bladder cancer

There are several different types of surgical procedures that can help treat bladder cancer. In case the cancer is in a small area and has not invaded the bladder walls, your doctor could recommend transurethral resection of bladder tumor or segmental (partial) cystectomy. In case the cancer is invasive and invades the deeper layers of the bladder wall, the surgical procedure recommended for you may include radical cystectomy.

Immunotherapy or Intravesical therapy for bladder cancer

Also known as biological therapy, this form of treatment is usually administered directly to the bladder through the urethra. Intravesical therapy signals your immune system to fight off cancer cells.

Chemotherapy for bladder cancer

This form of treatment involves the use of drugs that kill cancer cells. Several patients are asked to go through chemotherapy for bladder cancer before going through a surgery, to shrink the tumor. After surgery, chemotherapy is required to kill the cancer cells that remain.

Radiation therapy for bladder cancer

In this form of therapy, high-energy beams are aimed at the area affected by cancer cells. Your doctor may administer the radiation from a machine outside the body or through a device inside the bladder.

Complementary and alternative therapies

Unfortunately, complementary and alternative therapies do not help cure bladder cancer, though they can help to improve the quality of your life to some extent.