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What is bladder cancer?

How common is bladder cancer? 

If you’ve just started to look for information about bladder cancer, it’s probably because it has suddenly come into your life. Whether it is for you, your partner, a friend or a family member, you should know it is quite normal to know little or nothing about this cancer before it comes crashing into your life.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with bladder cancer, or know someone who has, there will be some basic things that you will want to know. Hopefully, what we tell you here will give you the key pieces of information you need right now. One thing we must stress right away is that there are many forms of bladder cancer. The treatment you will be offered will depend on which type you have, how far it has grown and how aggressive it is.

We hope the background information on this page will be helpful. But you always need to talk to your doctor or consultant to find out what this all means for you. 

What is cancer?

Cancer is a genetic disease, the name given to a collection of related diseases that can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Cells are the components from which our bodies are built. They divide and grow while they are needed, then stop growing and die, when they are not. If something goes wrong in a cell, it continues to divide, making more abnormal cells which eventually form a lump or tumour.

A benign tumour will not spread beyond where it originally formed. A malignant tumour can grow into nearby tissue and can travel around the body via the blood or lymphatic system. This is a network of organs and tissues that help the body to get rid of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials by circulating lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells.  

What causes bladder cancer?

Smoking is the by far the largest preventable cause of bladder cancer. If you haven’t given up yet, do it now! Even at this stage, it can massively help your recovery. In fact, bladder cancer is the only type of cancer that gets less aggressive if you stop smoking.

Other causes have been shown to include diesel fumes and certain industrial chemicals or dyes. In some cases we can't identify the cause, because not enough is known about the disease. This is why we support new research, so we can develop a better understanding of all the causes, and help prevent people getting bladder cancer in the first place.

What are the symptoms?

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in your wee. This can be very obvious (when your wee is bright red) or invisible to the naked eye (your doctor finds it by testing your wee with a dipstick). Blood in your wee can vary in depth from just a tint of redness to a rusty brown colour.

The second-most common symptoms are related to bladder irritation. These can include needing to wee more frequently than normal, having to rush to the toilet, having to get up a lot at night or finding it painful to wee. Sometimes these symptoms appear as repeated urinary infections or urinary infections that don’t settle down with antibiotics. If you are concerned, please see your doctor.

Find out more about signs and symptoms.

 

Are there different types of bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is commonly separated into slow-growing, non-invasive cancers and fast-growing invasive cancers. These are commonly called non-invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) and invasive bladder cancer (MIBC).

Non-invasive bladder cancer can be called ‘early-stage bladder cancer’ – this is when the cancer is found to be limited to the bladder surface and hasn’t spread elsewhere.

Invasive bladder cancer is when the cancer has spread deeper into the bladder itself, or even through the wall of the bladder into adjoining organs. 

How is bladder cancer treated?

This will depend on how aggressive your bladder cancer is and whether or not it has spread into the muscle part of your bladder.

Slow-growing bladder cancers: Called Low Grade or Grade 1 or 2, these tumours are the most common type, and do not normally spread beyond the bladder. They are treated by scraping the cancer from inside the bladder using a procedure called a TURBT (Transurethral Resection of Bladder Tumour). Often a localised form of chemotherapy is injected slowly into the bladder to try and kill all the cancerous cells in the bladder wall. This is the normal treatment for approximately 70% of all bladder cancer patients.

Fast-growing bladder cancers: Called High Grade or Grade 3, these tumours may be found either before they have started to invade the bladder wall or when they have already done so. Fast-growing cancers found in the early stages may be treated with BCG placed into the bladder. Fast-growing cancers that have already invaded the bladder wall need to be treated by either bladder removal (called a cystectomy) or radiotherapy. Often chemotherapy is used as well in these situations. This sounds dramatic, but if you do end up having to have your bladder removed, you can still have a normal healthy and active life afterwards.

Further information on signs and symptoms, getting a diagnosis and treatments.

How likely is it that I will die from bladder cancer?

It’s okay to ask this question and we understand why you want an answer. It is very difficult for any doctor to answer this in the early stages of diagnosis.

There are statistical estimates of 5-year survival rates from bladder cancer but this simple figure doesn’t really tell you anything. When you read about survival rates for bladder cancer, remember that they don’t give an accurate guide to what YOUR chances are of beating YOUR cancer. This depends on many factors: what age you are when diagnosed; how aggressive your particular type of cancer is, and the size, number and location of any cancerous growths.

Do ask your doctor or consultant about life expectancy if you want to, but don’t be surprised if you get a vague answer. This won't be because they don’t want to answer your question, but rather because they will need to find out a lot more about your particular cancer before they can give you an honest, more accurate answer. 

 

REMEMBER ONE SIMPLE TRUTH:
Most people diagnosed with bladder cancer are still alive five years later. 

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We’ve done everything we can to make all the information on this site as accurate as possible. Whilst we have had support from a small team of medical professionals advisors to review the general medical content of this site, please remember, that only YOUR medical team can give YOU specific advice about YOUR symptoms or illness. We encourage you to discuss any potential options with them.