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Bladder cancer

About bladder cancer

Bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States, with more than 80,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer from the disease than woman. Bladder cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer death among men.

The bladder is a hollow organ that stores urine before it is discharged from the body. Urine travels to the bladder from the kidneys through tubes called ureters and from the bladder out of the body through the urethra. The lining of the bladder, call the urothelium, is made of cells called urothelial cells. Ninety percent of bladder cancers develop in urothelial cells, a type of bladder cancer called transitional cell carcinoma (TCC).

What causes bladder cancer?

While the exact causes of bladder cancer are not always known, age and gender are among the most common risk factors. Other risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • Inherited gene mutations or hereditary cancer syndrome
  • Smoking
  • Chronic bladder infections
  • Long-term use of catheters

Learn more about the risk factors for bladder cancer

Who gets bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is most often found in older adults. According to the National Cancer Institute:

  • The average age of a person at the time of a bladder cancer diagnosis is 72.
  • The average age of a person who dies from bladder cancer is 79.
  • Bladder cancer is most frequently diagnosed in people between 65 and 74 years old.
  • More than 92 percent of all new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed in people older than 55.

Bladder cancer types

Aside from cancers that develop in the urothelium, other types of bladder cancer include:

  • Flat carcinoma
  • Papillary carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Sarcoma

Learn more about bladder cancer types

Bladder cancer symptoms

Early-stage bladder cancer may not produce symptoms. But as the disease progresses, many symptoms are related to urination. Symptoms include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent and/or painful urination
  • Inability to urinate
  • An urge to urinate when the bladder is not full

Symptoms of advanced bladder cancer include lower back pain and swelling of the feet.

Learn more about bladder cancer symptoms

Diagnosing bladder cancer

Tools and tests used to diagnose bladder cancer include:

  • Cytoscopy
  • Lab tests, including advanced genomic testing and urine tests
  • Biopsy
  • Pyelogram
  • Imaging tests, including X-ray, MRI, ultrasound and CT scan
  • Bone scan

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for bladder cancer

Treating bladder cancer

Surgery to remove all or part of the bladder is usually the first-line treatment for bladder cancer. Immunotherapy may also be a treatment option for some bladder cancers. The types of immunotherapy that may be recommended include:

  • Checkpoint inhibitors
  • Cancer vaccines

Next topic: What are the risk factors for bladder cancer?