Bladder cancer develops in the lining of your bladder wall. It's caused by the uncontrolled growth of cells. In the UK, more than 10,000 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year.
Your bladder is a hollow, muscular, balloon-like organ that collects and stores urine. Urine is produced by your kidneys, which clean your blood by filtering out water and waste products. Urine passes from your kidneys through tubes (called the ureters) into your bladder and then outside your body (through the urethra).
There are different types of bladder cancer, named after the type of cell the cancer first starts in and the stage of disease (how far it has spread). These are described below.
The most common symptom of bladder cancer is having blood in your urine. Other symptoms may include having:
If the bladder cancer is more advanced and has spread considerably, you may have additional symptoms such as bone pain.
These symptoms aren't always caused by bladder cancer, but if you have them see your GP.
Doctors don't fully understand why bladder cancer develops. However, certain factors increase your risk of getting the disease. These are described below.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will also usually ask you to take a urine test. You may be referred to a urologist (a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating conditions that affect the urinary system).
You may have the following tests to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the position and size of the cancer in your bladder and how far it has spread. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.
Transurethral resection of bladder tumour (TURBT)
TURBT is the main treatment option for early stage bladder cancer that hasn’t spread into your bladder wall. The procedure is carried out using cystoscopy and removes any unusual growths or tumours on your bladder wall. TURBT is usually followed by bladder treatment with mitomycin C or Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chance of cancer coming back.
Bladder treatment with mitomycin C or Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
Mitomycin C is a chemotherapy medicine used to destroy cancer cells. BCG is an immunotherapy that contains a weak form of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis that works by encouraging your immune system to attack cancer cells. Mitomycin C or BCG treatment is usually given after having a TURBT procedure, though sometimes it may be used alone to treat non-muscle invasive bladder cancer.
Removing your bladder and surrounding tissues is the main treatment for muscle-invasive bladder cancer. The operation is called a complete or radical cystectomy.
Before surgery, you may have chemotherapy to shrink the tumour. Then, after removing your bladder, your surgeon will create a new area for you to store urine. There are several ways to do this.
For older people who can’t have surgery, radical radiotherapy may be a more suitable option.
If you smoke, stopping smoking can reduce your risk of developing bladder cancer.
After treatment for bladder cancer, you will have regular check-ups with your doctor. If you had a urostomy, a stoma nurse at hospital may be able to give you help and advice.
Being diagnosed with cancer can be distressing for you and your family. Specialist cancer doctors and nurses are experts in providing the care and support you need. There are support groups where you can meet people who may have similar experiences to you. Ask your doctor for advice.
Produced by Krysta Munford, Bupa Health Information Team, November 2012.
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