Most people rarely think about their bladders until they have a particularly close call finding a restroom. Patients often do not realize they have an issue until they develop symptoms. By this time, they could have had bladder cancer for quite a while. But not many patients know how to perceive bladder cancer symptoms.
Luckily, after diagnosis, there are various successful treatment plans with high success rates. The sections below describe the process of diagnosing bladder cancer, common bladder cancer symptoms, the natural course of the disease and potential treatment options.
What Is Bladder Cancer?
When empty, the bladder is a pear-shaped organ that consists of muscular tissue forming a sac. A separate layer of tissue covers the muscle allowing the bladder to expand easily. With cancer, cells start behaving unusually and multiply quickly. In the bladder, this cancerous growth starts in the lining.
Due to bladder cancer symptoms, physicians detect the disease at this stage in about 50% of the cases. Unchecked, though, cancer eventually invades the muscle layer and can spread throughout the body.
Bladder Cancer Symptoms
The most obvious of the bladder cancer symptoms is blood visible in the urine. This is called hematuria and is one of the earliest signs along with dysuria, or painful urination. As the cancer grows, it can cause pain on the sides of the body beneath the ribs as well as swelling of the feet and ankles and urinary tract infections.
It is impossible to know the exact cause of a patient’s bladder cancer, but the biggest risk factor is smoking. This is followed by regular exposure to certain chemicals and previous radiation or chemotherapy. Also, data shows that men develop bladder cancer at triple the rate of women. The risk also increases with age starting at age 60.
Most Common Symptoms
- Urine blood clots.
- Frequent small amounts of urine.
- Pain during urination.
- Urinary tract infections.
Quickcare or ER?
Red flags that will send you to the ER:
- Blood in urine.
- Pain during urination.
- Lightheadedness, passing out, and fast heartbeat.
Diagnosing Bladder Cancer
What Will Your Doctor Ask?
When physicians suspect bladder cancer, they ask a variety of questions to determine whether the patient needs further investigation. They discuss a complete history to document the details of current symptoms and also other medical conditions.
Next, the physician reviews the body system asking about specific problems, focusing particularly on common bladder cancer symptoms. The discussion includes a social history looking for any cigarette smoking or regular exposure to chemicals. Finally, they discuss the family medical history looking for any cancers in relatives.
What Will Your Doctor Look for?
After talking about one’s medical history, the patient will undergo a physical examination including a rectal exam along with a pelvic or prostate exam. Initial lab tests include a urinalysis and urine culture which check the levels of blood and other chemicals including tumor markers in the urine.
These tests also detect infections. Blood work including a complete blood count and complete metabolic panel check for signs of anemia and the function of organs like the liver.
If it still looks like bladder cancer, the patient has imaging studies that could include a chest x-ray, bone scan, CT scan, and MRI. These tests check the body for signs that cancer has spread. Physicians use a cystoscopy to examine the inner lining of the bladder and to take biopsies of the tissue.
How Will Your Doctor Analyze It?
When a patient first presents with bladder cancer symptoms, physicians need to rule out other similar conditions. In men, these include prostate problems like benign prostatic hypertrophy. Kidney stones or bladder and infections can cause many of the same bladder cancer symptoms.
If all the tests point to cancer, the doctor determines the stage of cancer. This reflects the severity of the disease using three standards. First, tumor size, denoted by ‘T,’ is assigned one of twelve levels. ‘N’ and ‘M’ then describe the spread of cancer, the first being to lymph nodes and the latter describing distant spread, or metastasis. This score then relates to the overall stage from 0 to 5.
What Is the Treatment for Bladder Cancer?
Once the symptoms of bladder cancer lead to definitive diagnosis, doctors turn to treatment and determine if surgery is an option. For early stages, a transurethral resection, or TUR is recommended. The procedure involves entering through the urethra and removing the tumor.
With more advanced cancers, surgeons remove all or part of the bladder in a cystectomy. In these cases, they follow that with a urinary diversion. This either consists of using intestine to create a new bladder or making an ileal conduit that passes urine out of the body into a bag.
Radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy are other treatments used in cases where surgery is not an option and in patients after surgery to prevent recurrence. There are two forms of radiation treatment. Externally, techs pass energy through the body from outside to destroy the cancerous cells. Internally, physicians place radioactive seeds into the bladder to target these cells.
The two types of drugs used to treat bladder cancer are chemotherapy and immunotherapy. In chemo, the provider orders a regimen of intravenous drugs that destroy the cancer cells. In immunotherapy, the medication acts on the body’s immune system causing it to attack the cancerous cells as if they were an infection.
Bladder Cancer Treatment Duration
Especially when discovered in early stages, the survival rates are high. After treatment begins, bladder cancer symptoms resolve fairly quickly, but patients remain on maintenance therapy protocols for years. The biggest problem with bladder cancer is that it frequently recurs, and patients need routine testing, checking for new growth even if they have no bladder cancer symptoms.
Bladder cancer is often a treatable disease, especially when detected early. It is also one of the more common cancers, especially among older male. The most important thing patients can do is to visit their medical care providers as soon as they begin experiencing the primary bladder cancer symptoms of blood in urine and pain with urination.