Bladder Cancer


Approximately 63,000 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in the United States this year. Risk factors for bladder cancer include smoking, certain chemical exposures, and chronic bladder irritation such as bladder or kidney infections.

Common symptoms of bladder cancer include blood in the urine (hematuria), painful or frequent urination, and pelvic or low back pain.

Bladder cancer is often diagnosed with a cystoscopy where a urologist inserts a camera into the bladder and biopsies of suspicious areas are performed. Other diagnostic or staging studies may include a urinalysis and/or urine cytology examination and imaging studies such as a CT scan, PET scan, or Bone Scan to evaluate for metastatic disease.

Superficial bladder cancers that have not invaded into the muscle wall can often be treated with surgery alone or with surgery followed by BCG therapy. Close follow-up with repeat cystoscopies should always ensue after these procedures. If a tumor is found to invade the muscle wall of the bladder more aggressive treatment is needed either with surgery or definitive chemo/radiation therapy. Your surgeon can advise as to which surgical options are available to you given the size and location of your disease as well as your overall state of health and surgical risk.

Patients whose tumors are unresectable or are not surgical candidates due to comorbid diseases or the desire to retain bladder function can often be treated for cure with a course of chemotherapy and radiation given together. External beam radiation therapy involves a 5-7 week course of treatment with daily outpatient treatments. 3D-conformal therapy is used to deliver precise and targeted doses of radiation to the cancer allowing for preservation of nearby healthy tissues. Chemotherapy is often given along with the daily radiation treatments. Your medical oncologist will discuss the timing of chemotherapy cycles as well as the expected side effects with you.

Common side effects during a course of radiation therapy for bladder cancer include increased urinary frequency, burning with urination, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fatigue. Your radiation oncologist will evaluate and manage these symptoms as you go through your course of treatment. Most expected side effects will resolve within 2-4 weeks after completion of your radiation treatments.

Cure rates for bladder cancer vary greatly depending on the stage of disease, but most patients with invasive bladder cancer have a greater than 70% chance of long term cure with combined chemotherapy and radiation.