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Bladder Cancer Diagnosis

If you have symptoms that may signal bladder cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health; your lifestyle, including smoking and drinking habits; and your family medical history.

One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have bladder cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

Blood and urine tests

Cystoscopy: This is the most frequent and reliable test for bladder cancer. A thin tube with a camera on the end (cystoscope) is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. The cystoscope also can be used to take a tissue sample for biopsy and treat superficial tumors without surgery. However, cystoscopy is not always accurate when performed alone, and flat lesions (carcinoma in situ) and small papillary tumors can be missed. MD Anderson recommends that cystoscopy be combined with other tests for the most accurate diagnosis.

MD Anderson is also using blue light cystoscopy for more accurate detection of bladder tumors. 

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): A dye is injected, which then travels through the urinary system and shows up on an X-ray
  • Bone scan
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT urogram

Getting a Second Opinion at MD Anderson

The pathologists at MD Anderson are highly specialized in diagnosing and staging every type of bladder cancer. We welcome the opportunity to provide second opinions.

In rare cases, bladder cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.

Bladder Cancer Staging

If you are diagnosed with bladder cancer, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease. Staging is a way of classifying how much disease is in the body and where it has spread when it is diagnosed. This information helps your doctor plan the best type of treatment for you.

Once the staging classification is determined, it stays the same even if treatment is successful or the cancer spreads.

Bladder Cancer Stages

(source: National Cancer Institute)

Stage 0 (papillary carcinoma and carcinoma in situ): Abnormal cells are found in tissue lining the inside of the bladder. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue.

  • Stage 0a (also called papillary carcinoma) may look like tiny mushrooms growing from the lining of the bladder
  • Stage 0is (also called carcinoma in situ) is a flat tumor on the tissue lining the inside of the bladder

Stage I: Cancer has formed and spread to the layer of tissue under the inner lining of the bladder.

Stage II: Cancer has spread to the muscle wall of the bladder.

Stage III: Cancer has spread from the bladder to the fatty layer of tissue surrounding it, and may have spread to the reproductive organs (prostate, uterus, vagina).

Stage IV: Cancer has spread from the bladder to the wall of the abdomen or pelvis. Cancer may have spread to one or more lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials
offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about bladder cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.