What is bladder cancer?
Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the bladder. The bladder is a hollow muscular organ located in the lower abdomen and is responsible for storing urine.
This type of cancer originates when the cells that make up the urinary bladder begin to grow uncontrollably. As more cancer cells develop, they can form a tumor and over time spread to other areas of the body.
Types of bladder cancer include:
- Urothelial carcinoma: Urothelial carcinoma, formerly called transitional cell carcinoma, occurs in the cells that line the inside of the bladder. Urothelial cells expand when the bladder is full and contract when the bladder is empty. These same cells line the inside of the ureters and urethra, and cancers can also form in those places.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma is associated with chronic irritation of the bladder, for example from infection or prolonged use of a urinary catheter.
- Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells that make up the mucus-secreting glands in the bladder. Bladder adenocarcinoma is very rare.
How is it diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose bladder cancer include the following:
- Using a microscope to look inside the bladder (cystoscopy): To perform cystoscopy, the doctor inserts a small, narrow tube (cystoscope) through the urethra. The cystoscope has a lens that allows the doctor to see inside the urethra and bladder and examine these structures for signs of disease. Cystoscopy can be done in the doctor’s office or in the hospital.
- Removing a sample of tissue for testing (biopsy): During cystoscopy, the doctor may insert a special instrument through the endoscope and into the bladder to collect a sample of cells (biopsy) for testing. This procedure is sometimes called a transurethral resection of a bladder tumor. Transurethral resection of a bladder tumor can also be used to treat bladder cancer.
- Checking a urine sample (urine cytology): A sample of urine is checked under a microscope for cancer cells in a procedure called urine cytology.
Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as CT urogram or retrograde pyelogram, allow the doctor to examine the structures of the urinary tract.
How is it treated?
Once bladder cancer has been diagnosed and the stage of the tumor is known, the most appropriate treatment will be determined. In the same way as in the approach to other cancers, the treatment of this type of cancer must be multidisciplinary, to combine therapies and increase the cure rate.
In any case, the most common treatments for bladder cancer are surgery, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy.