The bladder is a balloon shaped organ that stores and empties urine from the body. Bladder cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer in the United States with the average age of diagnosis at 73. There are more than 70,000 new cases diagnosed every year resulting in 14,000 deaths. Bladder cancer has the highest rate of recurrence of any form of cancer, with a recurrence rate between 50 and 80 percent. Men are about three to four times more likely to get bladder cancer than women. The most common type of bladder cancer is called urothelial carcinoma and typically starts within the lining of the bladder.
Bladder Cancer Risks
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers are four times more likely to get bladder cancer than people who have never smoked. Exposure to chemicals such as benzene, phenacetin and aniline dyes also increase the odds of someone getting bladder cancer as well as a family history of the disease.
The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, also known as hematuria. Painful or frequent urination along with pelvic pain are also common symptoms. Sometimes tumors can be found incidentally when patients are asymptomatic. This can happen when microscopic amounts of blood are found in the urine the patient does not feel any pain or discomfort.
More than half of patients with newly diagnosed bladder cancer have early-stage cases. When diagnosed and treated in the early stages, bladder cancer is generally highly treatable. However, if you have been diagnosed with bladder cancer at any stage, it's important to be treated as soon as possible. The following are ways bladder cancer is diagnosed:
- Urine Cytology. Cytology is the examination of cells from the body under a microscope. In a urine cytology exam, a doctor looks at cells collected from a urine specimen to see how they look and function. The test commonly checks for infection, inflammatory disease of the urinary tract, cancer or precancerous conditions.
- Fluorescence In-Situ Hybridization (FISH). FISH is a urine test used to look for chromosomal abnormalities commonly seen in bladder cancer.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scans. CT Scans use a combination of X-rays and a computer to create pictures of your bladder. They are commonly used to evaluate the extent or spread of cancer.
- Cystoscopy. Cystoscopy utilizes a thin scope inserted into the urethra to directly visualize any tumors that may be located in the bladder.
Staging is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has invaded or spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. About two thirds of patients present with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, meaning that the tumor is confined to the bladder lining. About one third of patients have cancer that has invaded into the muscular wall of the bladder or tissue surrounding the bladder. Metastatic bladder cancer means the cancer has spread outside of the bladder area, usually in the lymph nodes, lungs or other sites.
The grade refers to the aggressiveness of the tumor and can help predict recurrence and/or progression of cancer. Typically, tumors are classified as either low or high grade.