Bladder Cancer

Overview

Advances in medical research are offering more treatment options than ever to treat bladder cancer. Scientists continue looking for ways to better understand the disease, find new ways to treat it, improve current treatment options and discover tumor markers that may lead to more individualized treatment.

The bladder

The bladder is a hollow organ in the pelvis, and its primary function is to hold urine before it exits the body. The urine travels to the bladder from the kidneys – where it’s made – through tubes called ureters. The bladder wall is flexible, enabling the bladder to hold approximately two cups (500 cc) of urine. When it’s full, the muscles in the bladder wall contract and force the urine out of the body through a tube called the urethra.

Figure 1

What is Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer begins when healthy cells in the bladder lining, most commonly urothelial cells, change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.

The most common type of bladder cancer is urothelial carcinoma, also called transitional cell carcinoma, and it has two subtypes: papillary and flat. Papillary tumors grow from the bladder’s inner lining toward the center of the bladder, and flat tumors grow along the surface of the lining.

Other types of bladder cancer include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and small cell carcinoma. All three are almost always invasive.

In addition, bladder cancer tumors can be further classified as one of three types:

  1. Noninvasive bladder cancer hasn’t yet penetrated any layers of the bladder.
  2. Nonmuscle-invasive bladder cancer has grown into the lamina propria layer but not into muscle.
  3. Muscle-invasive bladder cancer has grown deep into the bladder wall and possibly to tissue outside of the bladder.

Risk factors

When most people receive a diagnosis of any type of cancer, they want to know what may have caused the disease. Bladder cancer most frequently develops in people who are 55 years or older; the average age at the time of a bladder cancer diagnosis is 73 years. Bladder cancer occurs three to four times more often in men than women and is more common in white individuals compared with black individuals. The precise cause of bladder cancer remains unknown, but risk factors linked to the disease include smoking, exposure to certain chemicals (particularly those encountered through work in the chemical industry), diesel exhaust, environmental pollutants, chronic bladder infections, a family history of bladder cancer, previous radiation to the pelvis, or prior use of the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). It’s important to remember that many people diagnosed with bladder cancer don’t have any of these risk factors, and the disease never develops in many people who do have one or more of these risk factors.

Additional Resources

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