What is bladder cancer?
The bladder is a hollow organ located in the pelvis which is designed to hold urine. Bladder cancer is a common structure of cancer – around 10,000 cases of bladder cancer are identified in the UK each year. It is more commonly found in males than females and it is prevalent in people above the age of 50. Bladder cancer is usually classed as invasive or non-invasive: invasive means the cancer has moved outside of the bladder lining to the surrounding muscles while non-invasive means that the cancer has not spread beyond the lining of the bladder.
What causes bladder cancer?
- Smoking – this is the biggest risk factor for bladder cancer; the more you smoke, the higher risk you have of developing this form of cancer
- Contact with chemicals – includes those used in manufacturing dye, plastic, paint, rubber and other chemicals
- Parasitic infections
- Persistent urinary infections
Symptoms of bladder cancer
The most widespread sign of bladder cancer is bleeding during urination (known as haematuria). Other symptoms include:
- Burning sensation when passing urine
- Feeling like you need to urinate more frequently
These symptoms may be linked to other health conditions and do not automatically signify that you have developed a form of cancer. However, it is important to see your GP if you experience the above symptoms, especially in the case of blood in the urine.
How is bladder cancer diagnosed?
Your GP will initially ask you for a urine sample and will refer you to an urologist specialist for further tests. The tests may include further blood tests, a physical examination and a cytoscopy, which involves a flexible fibre-optic tube being used by the doctor to see inside the bladder. A biopsy may also be taken. The results of the tests will be considered before a diagnosis is made.
How is bladder cancer treated?
Once a diagnosis has been made you will be in the care of a team of medical professionals. Treatment for bladder cancer will be decided according to the stage and grade of the cancer. In the early stages, surgery can be carried out to remove tumours and chemotherapy and is usually used to prevent the cancer from returning. In more advanced cases, where the cancer has spread, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be used and surgery can also be conducted to remove some of the bladder.
What is the outlook for patients with bladder cancer?
The outlook will come down to the phase and grade of the cancer. If bladder cancer is detected early and it has not spread, the outlook is very good. However, if cancer has spread and a diagnosis is only made at an advanced stage, the outlook is not very positive with 50 percent of people dying within 5 years.
Living with bladder cancer
Coping with bladder cancer can be very difficult but your care team will do all they can to help you. If you need additional support, information or advice, you can contact one of the many cancer charities in the UK.