A person with bladder cancers walks to the bathroom at night

Cancer in the bladder often begins in the cells lining the inside of the bladder. Bladder cancer is commonly diagnosed at an early stage which allows the cancer to be more treatable. If you have been diagnosed or are experiencing symptoms of bladder cancer, it is important to understand the causes as well as the next steps to discuss with your provider.

Although some people with bladder cancer might not experience any symptoms, it is common to have one or more symptoms such as pain while urinating, frequent urination and blood in your urine.

Depending on your lifestyle or family history, you might be more at risk for bladder cancer. Some factors that could put you at a higher risk for bladder cancer are:

  • Being 55 years of age or older
  • Being a male
  • Smoking due to harmful chemicals entering your urine
  • Having a family history of bladder cancer

If your doctor believes you might have bladder cancer, they will likely run tests. Tests that can be done are:

  • Urine tests: Urine is tested for cancer cells, blood or proteins such as tumor markers
  • Cystoscopy: A urologist, a provider who specializes in conditions affecting your urinary tract system and reproductive system, will use a cystoscope with a camera and light to examine the bladder
  • Biopsy: A urologist may take a specimen of a tumor within the bladder during your cystoscopy
  • Resection of the bladder with cystoscopy: Samples are taken from multiple parts of the bladder and tested for cancer cells
  • CT scan: This test takes X-ray photos of the inside of your body to see if the cancer has spread outside of the bladder.
  • MRI scan: Radio waves and strong magnets are used to take detailed photos of the entire body

After being diagnosed, it is important to talk with your doctor about the seriousness of your cancer to help them know the best way to treat it. A few traits of the tumor to know are:

  • Grade: The appearance of cells that determines how fast they will grow
  • Invasiveness: How deep into the bladder wall the cancer has grown
  • Stage: The extent to which the cancer has grown in relation to where it started

There are many treatment options for bladder cancer. Depending on the stage and grade of your cancer, multiple treatments might be used. Most bladder cancers are treated by the following:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor
  • Intravesical treatment (medicines instilled in the bladder)
  • Immunotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation in select cases
  • Removal and replacement of the bladder

Unfortunately, bladder cancer can come back even after successful treatment. Therefore, follow-up tests are needed for years after being treated. It is recommended to visit your oncologist, a cancer doctor, every three to six months for exams and tests. These consistent visits are to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned and to catch it early if it has returned. Early detection allows for minimally invasive treatment, which means less recovery time.

UofL Health’s team of urology providers may be able to help if you are experiencing symptoms or have been diagnosed with bladder cancer. Visit UofLHealth.org to learn more or schedule your appointment today.

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Article by: Jamie Messer, M.D.

Jamie C. Messer, M.D., joined the Department of Urology at the University of Louisville in September, 2012. Dr. Messer is certified by the American Board of Urology and specializes in Urologic Oncology. Dr. Messer is a native Kentuckian and earned his medical degree at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He completed his urology residency at Penn State University and his urologic oncology fellowship at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Messer's interests are urothelial cancer, both upper and lower tract, as well as renal cell carcinoma. Dr. Messer also serves as site director for the urology residency program and University of Louisville Hospital. At the University of Louisville, he is an associate professor at the School of Medicine in the Department of Urology. 

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