Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that begins in your bladder — a balloon-shaped organ in your pelvic area that stores urine. Bladder cancer begins most often in the cells that line the inside of the bladder. Bladder cancer typically affects older adults, though it can occur at any age.
The great majority of bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage — when bladder cancer is highly treatable. However, even early-stage bladder cancer is likely to recur. For this reason, bladder cancer survivors often undergo follow-up tests to look for bladder cancer recurrence for years after treatment.
It’s not always clear what causes bladder cancer. Bladder cancer has been linked to smoking, a parasitic infection, radiation and chemical exposure.
Bladder cancer develops when cells in the bladder begin to grow abnormally. Rather than grow and divide in an orderly way, these cells develop mutations that cause them to grow out of control and not die. These abnormal cells form a tumor.
Different types of cells in your bladder can become cancerous. The type of bladder cell where cancer begins determines the type of bladder cancer. Your bladder cancer type determines which treatments may work best for you. Types of bladder cancer include:
- Transitional cell carcinoma. Transitional cell carcinoma occurs in the cells that line the inside of your bladder. Transitional cells expand when your bladder is full and contract when your bladder is empty. These same cells line the inside of your ureters and your urethra, and tumors can form in those places as well. Transitional cell carcinoma is the most common type of bladder cancer in the United States.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cells appear in your bladder in response to infection and irritation. Over time they can become cancerous. Squamous cell bladder cancer is rare in the United States. It’s more common in parts of the world where a certain parasitic infection (schistosomiasis) is a prevalent cause of bladder infections.
- Adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma begins in cells that make up mucus-secreting glands in the bladder. Adenocarcinoma of the bladder is rare in the United States.
- Some bladder cancers include more than one type of cell.
Bladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:
- Blood in urine (hematuria) — urine may appear dark yellow, bright red or cola colored. Or urine may appear normal, but blood may be detected in a microscopic examination of the urine
- Frequent urination
- Painful urination
- Back pain
- Pelvic pain
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, such as blood in your urine.