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Bladder Cancer - Topic Overview

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the body. These extra cells grow together and form masses, called tumors. In bladder cancer, these growths happen in the bladder.

The bladder is the part of your urinary tract that stores your urine until you are ready to let it out. See a picture of the female urinary system camera.gif or male urinary system camera.gif.

Bladder cancer can often be successfully treated if it is found and treated early. And most bladder cancer is found early.

This topic is about the most common type of bladder cancer, called transitional cell cancer. This is cancer that starts in the inner layer of the bladder. It happens most often in people who are in their 60s or older.

Experts don't know what causes bladder cancer. But smoking cigarettes or being exposed to certain chemicals raises your risk. And like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role.

Blood in the urine is the main symptom. Other symptoms may include having to urinate often or feeling pain when you urinate.

These symptoms can be caused by other problems, including a urinary tract infection. Always call your doctor if you see blood in your urine.

To diagnose bladder cancer, your doctor will:

  • Ask about your medical history and do a physical exam, including a vaginal or rectal exam.
  • Test your urine to look for blood or abnormal cells.
  • Do a cystoscopy, a test that lets your doctor look into your bladder with a thin, lighted viewing tool. Small tissue samples (biopsies) are taken and looked at under a microscope to find out if there are cancer cells.

Treatment choices for bladder cancer include:

  • Surgery to remove any cancer. Sometimes lasers or other methods can be used to get rid of tumors.
  • Chemotherapy, which uses medicine to destroy cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy, which causes your body's natural defense system to attack bladder cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-dose X-rays to kill cancer cells.

The treatment depends a lot on how much the cancer has grown. Most bladder cancers are treated without having to remove the bladder.

Sometimes doctors do have to remove the bladder. For some people, this means having urine flow into a bag outside of the body. But in many cases, doctors can make a new bladder—using other body tissue—that works very much like the old one.

Bladder cancer often comes back. The new tumors can often be treated successfully if they are caught early. So it's very important to have regular checkups after your treatment is done.

Finding out that you have cancer can change your life. You may feel like your world has turned upside down and you have lost all control. Talking with family, friends, or a counselor can really help. Ask your doctor about support groups. Or call the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345) or visit its website at www.cancer.org.

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