Sarah Cannon - July 03, 2019

The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2019, there will be more than 80,000 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed in the United States, representing 4.6 percent of all new cancer cases. According to SEER data, as screening technology advances the rates for new bladder cancer cases have been falling on average 1.2 percent each year over the last 10 years. It is important to know the risk factors as well as signs and symptoms of bladder cancer for you and your older loved ones.

Types of bladder cancer include:

  • Transitional cell carcinoma (also called urothelial carcinoma) which begins in urothelial cells that line the inside of the bladder
  • Squamous cell carcinoma which begins in thin, flat cells lining the bladder after long-term infection or irritation
  • Adenocarcinoma (a rare form of bladder cancer) which begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids

Causes and Risk Factors

There are specific risk factors that increase the potential for developing bladder cancer. These include:

  • Smoking - It has been linked as the cause of most bladder cancer cases, with long-term smokers at a greater risk.
  • Chemicals in the workplace - Those in the dye, rubber, chemical, metal, textile and leather industries as well as hairdressers, machinists, printers, painters and truck drivers may have a higher risk for bladder cancer.
  • Personal or family history of bladder cancer - A previous diagnosis of bladder cancer or having family members who have had bladder cancer increases the risk for developing this type of cancer.
  • Certain cancer treatments - Treatment with specific chemotherapy drugs or radiation to the abdomen or pelvis can increase the chance of developing bladder cancer.

However, it is important to note that many people without any of the above risk factors still develop bladder cancer, while those with the mentioned risk factors may not.

Signs and Symptoms

Bladder cancer can trigger certain symptoms that are similar to those caused by other diseases. Notify your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Blood in your urine (may appear rusty or dark red)
  • Urgent need to empty your bladder, frequent urination or frequent urge with no output
  • Need to strain or bear down when urinating
  • Pain when urinating

Diagnostic and Screening Tests

Currently, there is no standard or routine screening test for bladder cancer. If your doctor suspects you may have bladder cancer, the following tests may be ordered:

  • Urinalysis - to check your urine for blood, cancer cells or signs of other diseases.
  • Cystoscopy - a physical examination of the inside of your bladder, using a cystoscope (a thin lighted tube) inserted through your urethra.
  • Biopsy - the removal of tissue samples to exam for presence of cancer cells.

If cancer cells are present, a pathologist will determine the stage and grade of the tumor (how it differs from normal tissue and how quickly it is likely to grow). Tumors with higher grades tend to grow faster than those with lower grades.

The stage of bladder cancer can be determined using the following diagnostic tests:

  • CT scan (CAT scan) - a procedure (sometimes using a dye) that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, typically chest, abdomen and pelvis, taken from different angles.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) - also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
  • Chest X-ray - an X-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest.
  • Bone scan - a procedure that uses radioactive material to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) - an X-ray that uses ionizing radiation to define the kidneys, ureters and bladder in bright white on the X-ray images.
  • Ultrasound - the use of high-frequency sound waves to create images of the kidneys and other organs in the abdomen.

Once the cancer is graded and staged, the appropriate course of treatment can be determined.

If you have questions about the signs, symptoms and screenings for bladder cancer, call askSARAH now at (844) 482-4812 to speak to a nurse who is specially trained to help with your cancer questions.

It is important to know that the information in this post, including Sarah Cannon’s recommendations for screening, is accurate as of the publishing date.


American Cancer Society
American Urological Association
Medline Plus
National Cancer Institute
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms
National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program