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Finding Out You Have Bladder Cancer


Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and the eighth most common in women. Risk factors for bladder cancer include:

Age: Bladder cancer occurs more frequently in people older than 40 and rarely in those under 40.

Tobacco use: Smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars increases the risk two to three times.

Certain occupations: The following people are at higher risk: rubber, chemical and leather industry workers; hair dressers; machinists; metal workers; printers; painters; textile workers; truck drivers.

Race: Caucasian people are twice as likely to get bladder cancer as African Americans and Hispanics. Asians have the lowest rate.

Gender: Men have a bladder cancer rate that’s twice as high as women.

History of bladder cancer: If you’ve had bladder cancer, you’re at increased risk of getting it again.


What does treatment usually involve?

Treatment for bladder cancer is based on the stage of the disease. In the earliest stage, cancer cells are found only on the surface of the inner lining of the bladder. This is called Stage 0. At Stage I, cancer cells are deep in the inner lining of the bladder, but they haven’t spread to the muscle of the bladder. In Stage II, the cancer cells have reached the muscle. By Stage III, the cells have spread from the muscle wall to tissue surrounding the bladder. They may have spread to the prostate in men or to the uterus and vagina in women. In Stage IV, the cancer may have spread to the abdomen, the pelvic wall, to lymph nodes or to locations much farther away in the body.

When you sit down to talk with your doctor about your treatment, it can be hard sometimes to concentrate and remember everything that you discuss. That’s why it’s a good idea to take notes during the appointment. Or you may want to take a friend or family member with you, because it never hurts to have “another set of ears” listening to what your doctor says. Another option is to take a tape recorder to your appointment.

Treatments for bladder cancer generally include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.


Surgery: There are three main types of surgery for bladder cancer.

  • For earlier cancers, the surgeon inserts a tool into the bladder through the urethra (the tube from which urine leaves the body) and removes cancer cells. This is called transurethral resection. It is typically done in a hospital, under anesthesia. Chemotherapy may be necessary afterwards.
  • The most common type of surgery for cancer that has spread beyond the bladder lining is called radical cystectomy. It involves removing the bladder, lymph nodes nearby, a portion of the urethra and any close organs where the cancer may have spread. For men, this can include removal of the prostate, seminal vesicles and part of the vas deferens.  For women it can include removal of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and part of the vagina.
  • For low-grade cancers that have invaded the wall of the bladder in just one area, surgeons may perform what’s called a “segmental cystectomy.” This surgery removes the cancer cells and some of the bladder tissue that surrounds the tumor.

If your bladder needs to be removed, the surgeon will create another way for your urine to be collected. Sometimes, this entails wearing a bag outside your body. Other times, your surgeon may be able to create a pouch inside your body by using part of your intestine.

Be sure to ask your doctor the following questions if you need surgery for your bladder cancer:

  • What type of operation am I going to have?
  • How will I feel afterwards?
  • If I have a lot of pain, how will you be able to help me?
  • How will I urinate after the surgery?
  • How long will it take me to get back to my normal routine?
  • How will the surgery affect my sex life?
  • How frequently will I need to have checkups?



Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. For bladder cancer, there are two types of radiation: internal and external. During external radiation, a large machine outside your body aims radiation at the site of the tumor. For internal radiation, the doctor places a small container of a radioactive substance inside the bladder, either by going through the urethra or through an incision in the abdomen. This usually requires a hospital stay of several days. The container is removed before you leave the hospital.



If your cancer was not very invasive, you may receive chemotherapy directly into your bladder through the urethra. The schedule for this type of chemotherapy varies, but often happens once a week for a varied period of time.

For more invasive cancer, patients typically receive chemotherapy through a vein so that the medication can reach nearly every part of your body. Common side effects of chemotherapy include

  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Feeling extremely tired
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rash

Be sure to tell your doctor about any side effects you experience, because there may be medications that can help control them.


Follow-up after treatment is crucial

Since it’s fairly common for bladder cancer to return, it’s extremely important to stick to your follow-up appointment schedule. That way, if the cancer does come back, you’ll be aware of it as soon as possible.

The American Cancer Society; The National Cancer Institute
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