What Are the Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: September 2017.

In most patients diagnosed with bladder cancer, the cancer cells started to grow and can gather together to form tumors in the lining of the bladder, which is a thin layer of cells called the urothelium. In patients with early stage or non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, the tumors are located only in the bladder lining.

Bladder cancer can also be more advanced. In patients diagnosed with muscle-invasive bladder cancer, the cancer has grown into the muscles of the bladder walls. In patients diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer, the bladder cancer cells have spread beyond the bladder to other organs or parts of the body.

Some symptoms of bladder cancer are more common than others, and some symptoms tend to occur mainly in patients with more advanced bladder cancer that may have metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.

Is blood in urine a sign of bladder cancer?

By far, the most common symptom of bladder cancer is the presence of blood in the urine.1 This symptom may be an early sign that a person has bladder cancer, but blood in the urine can also be due to many other causes that are not cancer. The color may be pink, orange, rust-colored, or bright red, for example. Between 80% and 90% of patients diagnosed with bladder cancer experience this symptom. It is often the first symptom patients recognize, and some patients do not experience any other symptoms at all.

Other symptoms

Around 20% to 30% of patients diagnosed with bladder cancer experience symptoms that involve problems or changes related to urination.1 These are also called irritative bladder symptoms, and they include:

What are the symptoms of advanced bladder cancer?

Some symptoms are generally experienced by patients diagnosed with more advanced forms of bladder cancer.2 These include:

What health conditions can cause similar symptoms?

Some patients are diagnosed with bladder cancer later than they could be, because bladder cancer can cause symptoms that are quite similar to symptoms caused by other health conditions.3,4 For example, urinary tract infections (UTIs)—sometimes called bladder infections—can cause similar symptoms to bladder cancer. These include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain during urination
  • The urgent need to urinate despite an empty or partially full bladder
  • Frequent urination
  • Lower abdominal and/or pelvic pain

Delayed diagnosis

Some patients, especially women, may receive a delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer because they assumed that their symptoms were caused by a UTI. Bladder stones in men and women can also cause symptoms that are similar to bladder cancer. These include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during urination
  • Difficulty urinating or having a weak stream of urine
  • Lower abdominal pain

A doctor can rule out other causes

In men, an enlarged prostate or other prostate conditions can cause urinary symptoms that are similar to bladder cancer symptoms. In women, conditions including prolapsed bladder and ovarian or uterine cancer can also cause similar symptoms. Because the same types of symptoms can be caused by so many different conditions, being evaluated by your healthcare provider is the only way to find out exactly what is causing them.

Seek medical attention for symptoms

It is important to recognize and seek treatment for symptoms that may be caused by bladder cancer, because treatment tends to be more effective the earlier it is diagnosed. Many patients have a delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer because they ignore the symptoms or assume they are due to some other cause. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you experience any symptoms that may be caused by bladder cancer, especially if you notice blood in your urine.

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