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Bladder Cancer: Signs and Symptoms, Stages, Treatments, and Risk Factors

Bladder cancer occurs when malignant cells within the bladder grow to form a tumor. The condition begins within the inner layer of the organ, and can spread in the other layers of the bladder as it grows; however, sometimes it does stay confined within the innermost layer of the bladder for a long period of time.

Unfortunately, bladder cancer does rank within the top ten list of cancers amongst Americans, with over 81,000 new cases estimated in the United States for 2017, and just over 17,000 individuals dying from the disease last year. For whatever reason, men are more likely to contract bladder cancer versus women; and the chances of bladder cancer for males is one in 26, while for females it is approximately one in 90.

Signs and Symptoms

In the early stages of the disease, bladder cancer patients may not see any signs or symptoms; however, as the tumor grows, and health conditions worsen, individuals will begin to see symptoms peering up.

Below are some signs and symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • The most common symptom is blood in the urine
  • Need to urinate frequently
  • Intense need to urinate
  • Issues around urination
  • A pain or burning sensation or during urination

As the cancer progresses, and spreads to other regions of the body, additional signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss in appetite
  • Weight Loss
  • Fever
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Anemia
  • Pain in the anus, rectum, anus, flank (the side of the body) above the pubic bone or in bones, and pelvis
  • Swelling in leg, scrotum, or vulva
  • Lump in pelvis



The stages for bladder cancer explain how far the cancer has progressed and to what extent the tumor has grown. The stages for bladder cancer are listed below:

Stage 0

This indicates that the tumor is in the lining of the bladder only.

Stage 1

This is when the tumor has spread within the connective tissue layer of the organ.

Stage 2

This indicates the tumor has spread into the muscle layer of the organ.

Stage 3

This indicates the cancer has spread to nearby tissues outside the walls of either the abdomen or pelvic.

Stage 3A: The tumor has grown to one lymph node in the pelvis.

Stage 3B:  The tumor has grown to one or more lymph nodes above the pelvis or two or more lymph nodes within the pelvis.

Stage 4A

The cancer has spread either into the abdominal or pelvic wall; or the lymph nodes that are far away from the bladder.

Stage 4B

Referred to as metastatic bladder cancer, this stage indicates the cancer has reached other parts of the body, which might include other organs.

There are a variety of bladder cancer treatments, and these are determined by the stage of cancer the patient is in, location of the tumor, a patient’s overall health, and other factors.

Below are some bladder cancer treatment options:


Most patients treat their cancer via surgery. Surgery options include:

Transurethral resection (TUR): This option is generally used to remove cancer growths found in the lining only.

Partial, or Segmental Cystectomy: This include removal of a part of a patient’s bladder, as well as tumor.

Radical Cystectomy: The bladder is entirely removed along with nearby lymph nodes, and fatty tissue which surrounds the bladder. At times, reproductive organs may be taken out as well.

Urinary Diversion: This creates a much-needed urinary path, once the bladder is removed, post-radical cystectomy.


This is a biological therapy where a patient’s immune system is used to kill off cancer cells. Artificial and natural substances mimic or block natural cell reactions to destroy, change, or control the cancer cells’ behavior.

Immunotherapy is generally used for tumors found in the lining only, and do have an increased risk of growing deeper into layers. It can also be used for metastatic (or advanced) bladder cancer, or used hand-in-hand with another therapy or treatment.


Chemotherapy is a treatment for bladder cancer where drugs are used to stop cancer cells from multiplying, to kill them. There are two types of chemo therapy used for bladder cancer, and they include:

Intravesical Chemotherapy: Drugs are placed via urinary catheter, and mitomycin is the drug often used with this treatment.

Systemic Chemotherapy: Is when chemotherapy drugs are given via a needle (intravenously) into a vein.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses external beams of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing. This treatment is generally used by those bladder cancer patients who can’t have surgery, and sometimes used by those with advanced bladder cancer, to help reveal their symptoms.

Risk Factors

While the underlying reason behind why bladder cancer develops is unknown, there are some underlying risk factors, which include:

Smoking: Bladder cancers have a strong link to smoking, not only for those who smoke tobacco cigarettes, but pipes and cigars as well. The risk increases with how much you smoke daily, the years you have smoked, and how old you are when you started. Smokers and ex-smokers alike have an increased chance of developing bladder cancer than those who have never smoked a day in their life.


Arsenic is a natural substance found in soil and rock, and it can sometimes be in contaminated drinking water. Other areas of exposure include: manufacturing plants, mining, and smelting.

Chemicals at Work

Some industries offer workers a higher risk of bladder cancer due to the chemicals they are exposed to. They include:

  • Painting
  • Rubber manufacturing
  • Production of metal and aluminum
  • Dye and textile manufacturing
  • Transportation

Chronic Bladder Irritation

Those who suffer from bladder irritation, or if bladder irritation lasts for long periods of time, your chances around bladder cancer increase as well.


Those who have used the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Procytox) for other treatments increase their risk around bladder irritation, and therefore increases their bladder cancer risk.


Additionally, those who get radiation therapy to their pelvis or abdomen areas also heighten their bladder cancer risks. This also includes those who have had radiation exposure while on the job or survived nuclear accidents or atomic bombs.

Bladder Birth Defects

While rare, exstrophy and urachus are two birth defects that enhance one’s risk of getting bladder cancer.

The connection between the belly button and bladder, urachus grows in the fetus and stays on an adult as a thin strip of fibrous tissue. This can turn cancerous if a cyst forms along it or if it stays open, partially. Meanwhile, exstrophy occurs when the muscle, skin, and connective tissue at the front of one’s bladder does not shut entirely, which leaves a gap within the wall of the organ. The inside of this bladder is then exposed to micro-organisms, which can thus lead to chronic infections, and heightens the chances around bladder cancer.