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Almost all the people who develop bladder cancer are over 55 years old. When it is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, bladder cancer is usually highly treatable.
The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower abdomen. It stores urine, the waste that is produced when the kidneys filter the blood. The bladder has an elastic and muscular wall that allows it to get larger and smaller as urine is stored or emptied.
Urine passes from the two kidneys into the bladder through tubes called ureters. Urine leaves the bladder through another tube called the urethra. The urethra is longer in men
Bladder cancer begins in the inside layer of the bladder and grows into the walls, becoming more difficult to treat.
Bladder Cancer Types
Bladder cancer is classified based on the type of cells it contains. The main types of bladder cancer are:
Transitional cell bladder cancer: About 90% of bladder cancers are transitional cell carcinomas – cancers that begin in the urothelial cells, which line the inside of the bladder. Cancer that is confined to the lining of the bladder is called non-invasive bladder cancer.
Squamous cell bladder cancer: This type of bladder cancer begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that may form in the bladder after long-term infection or irritation. These cancers occur less often than transitional cell cancers, but they may be more aggressive.
Adenocarcinoma: Bladder cancer that develops in the inner lining of the bladder as a result of chronic irritation and inflammation. This type of bladder cancer tends to be aggressive.
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 Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting bladder cancer is a risk factor. These include:
Smoking tobacco: This is the greatest risk factor for bladder cancer. Smokers, including pipe and cigar smokers, are two to three times more likely than nonsmokers to get bladder cancer. Chemicals in tobacco smoke are absorbed into the blood, and then they pass through the kidneys and collect in the urine. These chemicals can damage the inside of the bladder and increase your chances of getting bladder cancer.
Age: The chance of developing bladder cancer increases with age, and it is uncommon in people under 40.
Race: Bladder cancer occurs twice as often in Caucasians as it does in African-Americans and Hispanics. Asians have the lowest rate of developing the disease.
Gender: Men are up to four times as likely as women to get bladder cancer.
Personal history of bladder cancer: Bladder cancer has a 50% to 80% chance of returning after treatment. This is the highest of any cancer, including skin cancer.
Exposure to chemicals: People who work around certain chemicals are more likely to get bladder cancer. These include:
- People who work in the rubber, chemical and leather industries
- Machinists and metal workers
- Textile workers
- Truck drivers
- People who work at dry cleaning businesses
Infections: People infected with certain parasites, which are more common in tropical climates, have an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Treatment with cyclophosphamide or arsenic: These drugs, which are used in the treatment of cancer and other conditions, raise the risk of bladder cancer. Arsenic in drinking water may increase risk too.
Chronic bladder problems: Infections and kidney stones may be risk factors, but no direct link has been established.
History of taking a
Having a kidney transplant
Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome)
Not everyone with risk factors gets bladder cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.
Learn more about bladder cancer:
Why choose MD Anderson for your bladder cancer treatment?
When you come to MD Anderson's Genitourinary Cancer Center for bladder cancer care, you are the focus of a team of exceptional experts that customizes your treatment to ensure the best outcomes with the least impact on your body.
This team, which includes medical, surgical and radiation oncologists, as well as a specially trained support staff, works together closely to provide comprehensive, but personalized care every step of the way.
And, they target bladder cancer with the very latest leading-edge technology and techniques for diagnosis and treatment, many of which are available at only a few cancer centers in the nation. These include:
- Laparoscopic robotic surgery
- Advanced reconstruction techniques
- Innovative and personalized chemotherapy
- Immunotherapy, including BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin)
MD Anderson surgeons are among the most experienced in the nation in bladder cancer procedures. This can make a crucial difference in your chances for successful treatment and recovery.
We offer early detection and chemoprevention for those at high risk of developing bladder cancer. And we are particularly experienced in the management of high-risk, complex bladder cancer cases, especially those that have returned after treatment.
And, at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's largest and most experienced comprehensive cancer centers, which has all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.
We are proud to be one of the few cancer centers in the nation to house a prestigious federally funded bladder cancer SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) program. As one of the world's largest cancer research centers, MD Anderson is leading the investigation into new methods of bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment. Each patient benefits from the most advanced research, delivered as rapidly as possible.
There were so many things that were part of this miracle that I've experienced, but MD Anderson was definitely one of the biggest parts.
BY MD Anderson
Last May, doctors in Iowa City, Iowa, gave Gerry Vilmont just five months to live. He’d just received his bladder cancer diagnosis a few days before, and he and his wife, Cheryle, were crushed.
That’s when Gerry’s daughter and her then-fiancé went online and found MD Anderson.
Today, thanks to bladder cancer advances at MD Anderson, Gerry is cancer-free and back enjoying life in Iowa.
Coming to MD Anderson for bladder cancer treatment
The first sign that MD Anderson was the right choice for Gerry came during his first visit. The doctors and nurses gave him hope -- something he had little of at that point.
“They were very encouraging, talking like I had a chance if you stuck with them,” he says. “They were positive, which is what you want.”
After a series of tests, Gerry’s doctors -- oncologist Jennifer Wong, M.D., and surgeon Jay Shah, M.D., -- set up his treatment plan. They’d start with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. If the chemo was successful, Gerry would have surgery to remove his bladder.
The chemo worked. By mid-September, scans showed the tumor had shrunk to half its size.
Doctor’s orders: A quick trip home to attend a daughter’s
At that point, Gerry was ready for surgery. But the procedure was put on hold for a few days so Gerry could attend his daughter’s wedding.
“I always try to see the world through my patients' eyes to get a sense of what they would want. The whole reason patients travel long distances, endure grueling chemotherapy regimens and agree to undergo big cancer operations is that they want to be around to enjoy more time on this planet with their loved ones,” Dr. Shah says.
“To make Gerry miss his daughter's wedding because of his operation would have defeated that whole point. I also have a little daughter whose wedding I do not plan to miss.”
Gerry flew back to Houston the day after the wedding. Two days later, he had surgery.
A new approach to bladder cancer surgery
Normally, Gerry would have been in for a long, difficult recovery after bladder cancer surgery. But he benefitted from a new approach developed by Dr. Shah that makes several changes to care before, during and after surgery.
For instance, patients can drink clear liquids up to two hours before surgery. This keeps them hydrated and helps them get back to eating solid food quickly. Pain medicines also are administered toward the end of the surgery, helping stop the worst post-surgery pain before it starts.
The technique worked for Gerry. Bladder surgery patients typically have a 10- to 14-day hospital stay followed by a slow, months-long recovery at home. Gerry was discharged just three days after his surgery.
By late October, he had turned the corner in his recovery. He’s now regained more than 20 of the pounds he lost during chemo and is strong enough to lift weights, walk on the treadmill and even play golf. He admits it’s an amazing turnaround after being given just a few months less than a year ago.
“There were so many things that were part of this miracle that I’ve experienced,” Gerry says. “But MD Anderson was definitely one of the biggest parts.”