• Bladder Cancer

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    About Bladder Cancer

    What is bladder cancer?

    Bladder cancer is a disease that forms in the tissues of the bladder, and most cases of bladder cancer begin in cells that make up the lining of the bladder. Each year, over 72,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed in the United States. Of these cases, nearly all occur in patients over the age of 55 years, more commonly in men than women.

    The bladder is an organ in the lower abdomen that stores urine, the waste produced when the kidneys filter the blood. The bladder expands and shrinks as it stores and empties urine. Urine passes from the kidneys into the bladder through tubes called ureters. A tube called the urethra, which is longer in men than women, then carries urine out of the body.

    male and female urniary systemsAnatomy of the male urinary system (left) and female urinary system (right) shows the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the bladder. The urine is stored in the bladder until it leaves the body through the urethra.  

    Risk factors

    Risk factors for bladder cancer may include:

    • Using tobacco, especially smoking cigarettes
    • Being a male (Men are four times more likely than women to develop the disease.)
    • Being over 40 years of age
    • Being white
    • A personal history of chronic urinary tract infections or bladder infections
    • Exposure to certain chemotherapy drugs or radiation treatments
    • Exposure to certain chemicals or occupations that deal with certain chemicals: this includes those who work in the rubber, leather or chemical industry, hairdressers, printers, painters, machinists, metal workers, textile workers, truck drivers, and those who work at dry cleaners.
    • Use of urinary catheters for a prolonged time
    • Having a kidney transplant
    • Having a history of kidney or bladder stones
    • Drinking water with high levels of arsenic
    • Prolonged use of the bacteria A. fangchi, found in a Chinese herb
    • Certain genetic conditions, including hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), otherwise known as Lynch syndrome

    Signs and symptoms

    Symptoms of bladder cancer vary from person to person, but the most common sign is blood in the urine (hematuria). However, blood in the urine may be caused by a number of conditions, and does not necessarily indicate cancer.

    Common bladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:

    • Blood in the urine
    • Change in bladder habits
    • Painful urination
    • Frequent urination, or having the urge to urinate unnecessarily
    • Lower back pain

    Diagnosis

    To diagnose bladder cancer, or to see if the cancer has spread, these tests may be performed:

    • Physical exam
    • Blood and urine tests
    • Cystoscopy
    • Biopsy
    • Bone scan
    • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): In this process a dye is injected, which then travels through the urinary system and shows up on an X-ray
    • CT (CAT) scan or PET scan
    • X-ray
    • MRI scan

    Learn details about how we diagnose bladder cancer.

    Treatment

    Treatment options depend on the stage of the cancer and a patient's general health. Treatment may include:

    • Advanced surgical and reconstructive procedures, including robotic surgery
    • Radiation therapy
    • Immunotherapy
    • Personalized chemotherapy
    • Clinical trials
    • Active surveillance

    Learn details about how we treat bladder cancer.

    Prognosis

    The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends mainly on the stage of the cancer, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body, as well as the age and health of the patient.

    Next: How We Diagnose Bladder Cancer 

  • Email
  • Print
  • Share
  • Text
Highlight Glossary Terms
  • Make an Appointment

    • For adults:
      877-442-3324 (877-442-DFCI)
    • For children:
      888-733-4662 (888-PEDI-ONC)
    • Or complete the online form.
  • Genitourinary Cancer Treatment Center