Bladder cancer

Please note: the information below does not constitute medical advice. If you have any concerns at all, speak to your GP or consultant.




Approved:  April 2024




Review date: April 2026



Disclaimer: This information refers specifically to Male and Female anatomy but is relevant for all genders.

Bladder cancer about

Around 10,300 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer in the UK every year. It’s the 11th most common type of cancer in the UK.

Bladder cancer most often begins in the lining of the bladder. The cancer can then spread to the bladder muscles and to other parts of the body.

Bladder cancer is most common in older people and typically affects people aged 50 and older. Over 60% of new cases are in people aged 75 and over.

More men than women are diagnosed with bladder cancer. Whilst there is no clear reason for this it may just be because more men than women have smoked or been exposed to chemicals at work in recent decades.

Types of bladder cancer

Non muscle invasive bladder cancer or early bladder cancer is where the cancer cells are within the lining of the bladder.

Muscle invasive bladder cancer is where the cancer cells have spread beyond the lining and into the bladder muscle. This is known as muscle invasive bladder cancer. This is less common than non-muscle invasive bladder cancer and has a higher risk of spreading to other areas.

What causes bladder cancer

Risk factors for bladder cancer include:

  • Smoking. Almost half of all bladder cancers are caused by smoking
  • Exposure to certain chemicals can cause or increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Radiotherapy to treat previous cancers near the bladder
  • Being above a healthy weight range
  • Previous treatment with certain chemotherapy medications
  • Certain medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, long-term urinary tract infections (UTIs), and bladder stones
  • Long-term use of a urinary catheter
  • An untreated infection called schistosomiasis (bilharzia). The infection is caused by a parasitic worm that lives in fresh water in some parts of the world including Africa and Asia. (This parasitic infection is extremely rare in the UK).

Bladder cancer symptoms

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, which is painless and may cause urine to appear bright red, though sometimes the urine appears normal and blood is only detected in a test.

Other symptoms include pain or a burning sensation during urination, an increased need to urinate, difficulty passing urine despite strong urges and back pain.

If the cancer is advanced or has spread symptoms might include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • pain in your back, lower tummy or bones
  • Generally feeling tired or unwell

Diagnosing bladder cancer

Firstly, the GP will ask about symptoms and medical history. They may take a urine test to check for bacteria or blood, and perform a physical examination.

If the results are unclear, referral to a specialist will be recommended and further tests will be required. These may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and x-rays to observe functions occurring inside your body
  • Cystoscopy – A cystoscope (a thin instrument with a camera and light at one end) is inserted into the urethra to examine the bladder lining. If irritation or damage is suspected, a tissue sample will be taken and examined for signs of cancer.

Treating bladder cancer

Treatments for bladder cancer include:

Most bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is highly treatable. But even early-stage bladder cancers can come back after successful treatment.

Early Bladder Cancer

Treatment for early bladder cancer may include:

  • A TURBT where bladder cancer is removed by surgery from the inside of the bladder.
  • Chemotherapy which is given into the bladder via a catheter. This is known as Intravesical chemotherapy.
  • Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) – a type of immunotherapy drug which uses the body’s immune system to find cancer cells. This is given into the bladder via a catheter.
  • cystectomy or type of surgery to remove the bladder. This may be suggested for a high risk cancer or cancer has returned.

Invasive bladder cancer

Treatment for invasive bladder cancer may include

  • cystectomy or type of surgery to remove the bladder. This may be suggested for a high risk cancer or cancer has returned.
  • Radiotherapy with other treatments such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Clinical trials

For general information about clinical trials, including what they are and advice on how to find a clinical trial, click here.

Life after bladder cancer

Bladder cancer and its treatment is likely to cause mental and physical changes. Some changes may result from treatment such as radiotherapy, surgery, or treatment into your bladder. The physical changes you have depend on how far your bladder cancer has grown (the stage).

The most common physical change will be passing urine – this may be the frequent passing of urine or urinary leakage.

Other changes can include scarring and, if the bladder is removed you will have your urine diverted through a urinary stoma  or a reconstructed bladder.

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