Bladder Cancer


Mercy is a leader in diagnosing and treating genitourinary cancers, including bladder cancers. Our team of cancer specialists will pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and develop a unique treatment plan for relief. 

What’s Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer is a type of genitourinary cancer that starts in the bladder and makes up approximately 5% of all new cancer cases in the U.S. Most cases of bladder cancer start in the cells that line the insides of your bladder. If untreated, bladder cancer can quickly spread to other areas of the body, limiting your treatment options.

Types of Bladder Cancer

Urothelial Carcinoma (Transitional Cell Carcinoma)

Also referred to as transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), urothelial carcinoma is a papillary or flat tumor that grows into the deeper layers of the bladder. TCC is the most common type of bladder cancer.

Other Types of Bladder Cancer

There are additional types of bladder cancer.  However, they are very rare. Other bladder cancer types include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma - makes up only about 1 - 2% of all bladder cancers in the US and is almost always invasive. It develops in the bladder lining in response to chronic irritation and inflammation, often the result of an infection.
  • Adenocarcinoma - makes up about 1% of all bladder cancers and almost all cases of adenocarcinoma in the bladder are invasive.
  • Small cell carcinoma - begins in the neuroendocrine cells and makes up less than 1% of all bladder cancers in the US. It typically grows very quickly but can be treated effectively with chemotherapy.
  • Sarcoma - bladder sarcomas start in the muscle layer of the bladder wall and tend to form in openings between the ureters and the urethra. However, they can also develop in the bladder itself. Bladder sarcomas are the most common kind of genitourinary sarcomas. 

Start & Spread of Bladder Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancers may be described as invasive or non-invasive based on whether they have spread into the bladder wall. Additionally, bladder cancer is divided into two subtypes:  papillary carcinomas and flat carcinomas, based on how they grow.

  • Non-invasive bladder cancer - cells are found in the inner layer of cells but have not grown into the deeper layers.
  • Invasive bladder cancer - cells that have grown into the deeper layers of the bladder wall, making them more likely to spread and more difficult to treat.  

Bladder Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

Although all of the causes of bladder cancer are unknown, researchers do know that some cases are related to gene mutations that occur during a person's lifetime. Additional risk factors for bladder cancer may include the following.

Age & Gender

The risk of developing bladder cancer increases with age. It typically occurs more in individuals over the age of 55 and less in individuals under the age of 40. Additionally, bladder cancer is far more common in men than in women. In fact, men develop bladder cancer at about four times the rate of women.  

Tobacco Use

People who smoke or have a history of heavy smoking develop bladder cancer at more than three times the rate of those who don't smoke or use tobacco products.

Exposure & Prior Radiation

People who work with certain industrial chemicals or in environments where harmful substances are present may be at greater risk. Radon and asbestos are two of the known chemical substances known to cause cancer in humans. If you’ve received prior radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may also be at greater risk—especially if you’ve received radiation directly to the pelvic area or had sustained use of chemo.

Health & Cancer History

If you have a history of developing bladder infections, bladder stones, kidney stones or have prolonged bladder irritation, you may be at greater risk of developing bladder cancer. Additionally, having cancer in any area of the urinary tract can increase your chances of developing cancer again. In fact, bladder cancer has a very high recurrence rate.

Inherited Genetic Syndromes

Having Cowden syndrome, Lynch syndrome or other genetic syndromes can increase your risk of developing bladder cancer at some point in your lifetime. 

Bladder Cancer

Risk Factors to Watch Out For

Mercy’s Dr. Gautum Agarwal discusses risk factors and common causes of bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer Symptoms

As with most genitourinary cancers, the earlier bladder cancer is found, the more successful treatment is likely to be. In about 90% of cases, one of the first signs of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. Additional signs of bladder cancer can include:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Having to urinate more often
  • Difficulty urinating, including a slow or weak stream
  • Pelvic or back pain

Advanced Bladder Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of more advanced bladder cancer can include:

  • Lower back pain on one side
  • Weight loss or sudden loss of appetite
  • Inability to pass urine
  • Chronic bone pain
  • Swelling of the feet and/or ankles

It’s not unusual for people showing signs of bladder cancer to assume their symptoms are not cancerous. That’s because common symptoms are often similar to other medical conditions, such as a urinary tract infection or an overactive bladder. If you notice any changes in your urination habits or see blood in your urine, talk to your Mercy doctor immediately.

Diagnosis & Treatment for Bladder Cancer

If you’re experiencing symptoms of bladder cancer, it can be overwhelming. Mercy is here to help with everything from diagnosis to treatment. 

Learn about bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment options. 

View All Results View All Results