In this blog, our intern Emily gives some key facts about bladder cancers. Our new editions of booklets Understanding non-invasive bladder cancer and Understanding invasive and advanced bladder cancer can give you more detailed information about bladder cancer and its treatment. 

Bladder cancer
The bladder is a hollow, muscular, balloon-like organ which collects and stores urine.

This diagram shows the structure of the bladder. At the top of the bladder, a ureter is connected at each side. The outer lining of the bladder is a thin layer of fat. The next layer is made of muscle and is thicker. Next there is a thin layer of connective tissue. The inside of the bladder is lined with a thin layer called the urothelium. At the bottom of the bladder, it shows the urethra.

Bladder cancer usually starts in the cells lining the bladder. Non-invasive bladder cancer is cancer that is only in the inner lining of the bladder. Around 8 out of 10 (80%) of bladder cancers are non-invasive bladder cancers. 

Invasive bladder cancer is cancer that has spread into the muscle of the bladder.

When the cancer has spread outside the bladder to other parts of the body, this is known as advanced bladder cancer.

Symptoms of bladder cancer
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of bladder cancer. The earlier bladder cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be cured. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Blood in the urine - this is the most common symptom of bladder cancer. Your urine may look pink, red or sometimes brown. If you see blood in your urine, it is important to get it checked by your GP straight away.
  • Urinary symptoms - you may feel a burning feeling when you pass urine, or you may need to pass urine more frequently. These symptoms are normally caused by an infection rather than bladder cancer.
  • Pain in the lower part of the tummy or back - this is less common but may happen in some people.

There are lots of different causes for these symptoms, but if you have any of them it’s important to get them checked by your GP.

Causes and risk factors
About 10, 000 people a year are diagnosed with bladder cancer. There are certain things that can affect the chance of getting bladder cancer. Having a risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean a person will get bladder cancer. The risk factors for bladder include:

  • Age - bladder cancer is more common in people over 60.
  • Smoking - may cause about 40% of bladder cancers.
  • Gender - bladder cancer is more common in men than in women.
  • Exposure to chemicals at work- harmful chemicals that were previously used in dye factories and industries such as rubber, leather, textile, printing, hairdressing, gasworks, plastic and paint can increase bladder cancer risk.
  • Infection - repeated urinary infections and untreated bladder stones are linked with a certain type of bladder cancer.
  • Previous treatment for cancer- people who have had radiotherapy to the pelvis or who have taken the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide have an increased risk of bladder cancer.
  • Diabetes - a drug called pioglitazone, used for diabetes, may increase bladder cancer risk
  • Family history - if a close relative has had bladder cancer, your risk increases slightly but this may be due to shared risk factors such as smoking.

You can read more about bladder cancer in our new booklets Understanding non-invasive bladder cancer and Understanding invasive and advanced bladder cancer. There is also more information on our website. Our cancer support specialists can also help with any questions you have. You can call them on 0808 808 00 00.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

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