Bladder Cancer Symptoms, Diagnosis, Stages and Treatment

Bladder cancer is a serious condition, affecting approximately 80,000 Americans each year and leading to an estimated 17,000 deaths annually. Men are more prone to bladder cancer than women.

When caught early, bladder cancer can be managed with an endoscopic procedure called “transurethral resection of bladder tumor,” or TURBT. Bladder cancer has a high recurrence rate, so regular cystoscopies – placement of a cystoscope through the opening of the urethra and into the bladder – are required to closely monitor a patient for recurring bladder cancer.

woman with bladder cancer sitting

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer, which include:

  • Blood in the urine (visible or microscopic)
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Urine that is an unusual color
  • Hurting or burning sensation when urinating
  • Feeling of urgency to urinate
  • Trouble urinating or peeing very little
  • Passage of tissue or clots in the urine
  • Pelvic and/or back pain

Stages of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer – like other cancers – is measured in stages. There is the clinical stage and the pathologic stage.

Clinical Stage: Your doctor’s opinion on how far the cancer has spread. This is based on tests, including physical exams, imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans and biopsies.

Pathologic Stage: This stage occurs after surgery and is informed by previous tests as well as what was found and removed during surgery.

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) established a method of staging cancer called the TNM system that describes how far the cancer has spread:

  • T (Tumor): A measurement of how far the main tumor has grown through the bladder and if it has spread to nearby tissue.
  • N (Lymph Nodes): These are groups of cells that fight disease. “N” describes whether cancer has spread into your lymph nodes.
  • M (Metastasized): Describes whether the disease has spread into organs or lymph nodes that aren’t near the bladder.

A number or letter will be assigned by your doctor after T, N and M. The higher the number, the more that the cancer has spread in the body.

The stages of bladder cancer are:

  • Stage O Bladder Cancer: The cancer is only in the center of the bladder and has not spread into the muscle or tissue of the bladder wall or to the lymph nodes or other organs.
  • Stage I Bladder Cancer: The cancer is in the lining of the bladder but not the muscle of the bladder wall or the lymph nodes or other organs.
  • Stage II Bladder Cancer: The cancer is in the connective tissue in the bladder and the bladder muscle.
  • Stage III Bladder Cancer: The cancer is the layer of fatty tissue surrounding the bladder. It may have spread to the vagina or prostate. It is not in the lymph nodes or organs.
  • Stage IV Bladder Cancer: In this stage, the cancer has: 1) Spread from the bladder into the pelvic or abdominal wall. It has not spread to the lymph nodes or organs or organs; 2) The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but not the organs; 3) The cancer is in your lymph nodes or distant sites like your bones, liver or lungs.

Treatment for Bladder Cancer

Treatment for bladder cancer will depend on the stage the cancer is in. Typically, bladder cancer is treated with an endoscopic procedure called “transurethral resection of bladder tumor,” or TURBT, mentioned above. As mentioned, because bladder cancer has a high rate of returning to the body, regular cystoscopies to monitor its return are essential and critical.