A relatively common malignancy, bladder cancer is categorized based on the type of cell it originates in. Most often, the cancer develops in the urothelial cells that line the bladder—a hollow organ in the lower abdomen that stores urine—and the tubes that connect the bladder to the kidneys (ureters). In addition to urothelial carcinoma, other types of bladder cancer include small cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, sarcoma and adenocarcinoma.
What Causes Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer begins when a cell in the bladder develops a DNA mutation. DNA provides a cell with detailed instructions on how to function; as a result of the change, the DNA incorrectly tells the cell to rapidly grow and multiply. Abnormal cells then accumulate in the bladder, bind together and form a tumor. In time, some cancerous cells may break away from the original tumor and invade nearby tissues or enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.
Although the precise causes of the cellular DNA mutations that lead to bladder cancer are not yet fully understood, researchers have identified several risk factors, including:
- Chronic bladder infection
- Certain genetic syndromes
What Are the Signs of Bladder Cancer?
Bladder cancer does not always produce noticeable symptoms. When it does, the symptoms can be easily misattributed to a urinary tract infection or an overactive bladder. Some common signs to pay close attention to include:
- Bloody urine (hematuria)
- Pain or burning sensations during urination
- Excessive urination, especially at night
- A frequent urge to urinate, even when the bladder is empty
- A weak urine stream
- Low back pain
How Is Bladder Cancer Diagnosed?
To diagnose bladder cancer, a physician will typically order a urinalysis or urine cytology along with some imaging tests, and possibly perform a cystoscopy to examine the inside of the bladder and obtain a tissue sample for evaluation under a microscope.
How Is Bladder Cancer Treated?
Bladder cancer treatment can vary depending on the size and stage of the cancer, the makeup of the tumor and the patient’s medical history. In general, treatment may involve:
- Radiation therapy
- Intravesical therapy
- Surgical procedures, such as transurethral resection, segmental cystectomy and radical cystectomy
The multispecialty team of genitourinary (GU) oncology specialists at Tampa General Hospital offers the latest treatment options for bladder cancer and other GU malignancies. Additionally, we are committed to educating our patients so they can make fully informed treatment decisions with confidence.