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Bladder Cancer


If bladder cancer runs in your family or you're concerned about this disease, you should know this one important fact: This type of cancer is highly treatable when diagnosed in the early stages.

The most common form of bladder cancer starts in the organ's innermost tissue layer. “The lining of the bladder is constantly in contact with carcinogens that enter the bloodstream and get filtered through the kidneys,” says Daniel Petrylak, MD, urologist at Yale Medicine, and professor of medicine and urology. 

When bladder cancer spreads to nearby organs and lymph nodes, the disease is considered invasive. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can all be treatment options, depending on the severity of this cancer.

The physicians and surgeons at Yale Medicine's Urologic Oncology Program are at the forefront of bladder cancer treatment and research, integrating innovative approaches and the latest research and technology to provide superior patient care. We have played a leading role in researching immunotherapy as an effective treatment for advanced bladder cancer. Our caregivers are committed to offering both early and late-stage bladder cancer patients the most advanced diagnostic technologies and treatment strategies available.

What is bladder cancer?

The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower part of the abdomen that stores urine to be passed out of the body. The most common form of bladder cancer starts in cells within the innermost tissue layer of the bladder. When cancer in the lining of the bladder spreads to nearby organs and lymph nodes, it is considered invasive.

Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and the eighth most common cancer in women. About 80,000 people in the United States are estimated to be diagnosed annually.

What are the risks of bladder cancer?

No single factor is directly connected to bladder cancer, but factors that can increase the risk include:

  • Age: Bladder cancer typically affects people age 55 and older.
  • Smoking: Carcinogens from tobacco smoke come in contact with the lining of the bladder. Smokers are three times as likely as non-smokers to get bladder cancer.
  • Family history: There is evidence that bladder cancer may have a genetic component.
  • Industrial chemicals: Chemicals known as aromatic amines are often used in the dye industry. Workers who have daily exposure to them, such as painters, machinists and hairdressers, may be at a higher risk for bladder cancer.
  • Drinking contaminated water: This includes water that has been treated with chlorine or drinking water with a naturally high level of arsenic, which occurs in many rural communities in the United States,.
  • Taking certain herb: Supplements such as Aristolochia fangchi, a Chinese herb, sometimes used for weight loss has been linked to higher rates of bladder cancer.

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

The early stages of bladder cancer can be difficult to recognize, but early symptoms include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during urination
  • Lower back pain

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

Bladder cancer is typically diagnosed by going through the patient’s health history and checking for physical signs of the disease. A urine sample may also be taken and checked for abnormal cells. In some cases, a cystoscope—a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing—may be inserted through the urethra into the bladder to take a tissue sample.

What are the most common treatments for bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is highly treatable when it is diagnosed in the early stages. The main types of treatments for bladder cancer include:

  • Surgery: Bladder cancer treatment almost always has a surgical component that may be combined with other non-invasive approaches, including those listed below.
  • Intravesical chemotherapy: In this targeted treatment, chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the bladder.
  • Traditional chemotherapy: The above approaches may be combined with traditional or systemic chemotherapy, which works to kill cancer cells throughout the entire body. It also heightens the effectiveness of radiation treatments.
  • Radiation therapy: In radiation therapy, high-energy radiation is used to kill cancer cells. In the case of bladder cancer, the most common form of radiation therapy used is external beam focus radiation in which a beam outside the body is focused on the cancer much like in a traditional X-ray.

What makes Yale Medicine's approach to treating bladder cancer unique?

At Yale Medicine Urology, doctors are at the forefront of treating the disease, says Dr. Petrylak. Our doctors collaborate across disciplines with urologists, oncologists, radiation oncologists, and pathologists. Once a patient is diagnosed, a team of the nation’s top researchers and physicians is ready to treat them. We are internationally recognized leaders in clinical trials for men with bladder and prostate cancer.