Advanced Bladder Cancer: Is Swelling in the Feet Normal?

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

Some patients diagnosed with bladder cancer experience the symptom of swelling in the feet.1 Although swelling in the feet is not usually caused by bladder cancer, it is a more common symptom among patients who are diagnosed with bladder cancer at a more advanced stage than patients diagnosed at an early stage.

The stages of bladder cancer

Bladder cancer cells usually start to grow in the thin layer of cells that line the inside of the bladder walls, and they can gather together to form masses of cells called tumors. In early stage or non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, the tumors are only located in the bladder lining—which is called the urothelium. If the bladder cancer cells have grown into muscles in the walls of the bladder, a person is diagnosed with muscle-invasive bladder cancer. If cancer cells have spread to other organs or parts of the body, a person is diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer. Bladder cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the lymph nodes, for example, can cause swelling in the feet.

The most common bladder cancer symptoms

Let your healthcare provider know if you experience swelling in your feet, especially if you also experience any problems or changes related to urination. The most common symptom of bladder cancer, which is experienced by around 80% to 90% of patients diagnosed, is blood in the urine that is easily visible. Between 20% and 30% of patients diagnosed with bladder cancer experience other symptoms related to urination, which include

Swelling in the feet and legs

The medical term for swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in the body is edema.1-3 Edema occurs most commonly in the feet and in the legs, but it can also affect the hands, arms, face, and other parts of the body. In edema, excess fluid collects under the skin or inside spaces within the body. Edema in the feet and legs can cause several different types of symptoms, including:

  • Feeling puffy, swollen, or heavy
  • Less flexibility in the ankles and other joints
  • Clothes or shoes feeling tight
  • Skin that is shiny, tight, or stiff feeling
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased amount of urine
  • Fluid seeping out of the skin

How do doctors find the causes of these symptoms?

If you experience swelling in the feet, especially if you also experience symptoms related to urination, then your healthcare provider will probably perform a physical examination in addition to several types of diagnostic tests to find out the cause of the symptoms. A urine sample may be tested to check for signs of infection or other possible problems. A procedure called a cystoscopy can be used to examine the inside of the bladder and the urethra, the hollow tube-like organ that connects to the bladder and allows urine to flow out of the body. During cystoscopy, a small sample of tissue may be taken for a biopsy, in which the cells are examined for possible signs of cancer.

Patients diagnosed with bladder cancer usually have further testing to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This may include a CT (CAT) scan, MRI, chest x-ray, and/or bone scans.

What else can cause swelling?

The symptom of swelling in the feet tends to be caused more often by causes other than bladder cancer.2 Being physically inactive can cause fluid to build up in the legs and feet. Swelling can also be caused by kidney, liver, or heart problems, or by blood clots. Other types of cancers—such as kidney, liver, or ovarian—can cause swelling in the feet or other parts of the body. Some cancer treatments can also cause swelling in the feet, such as certain types of surgery, radiation therapy, and certain types of chemotherapy. Would you like to talk to others in the bladder community about symptoms? Reach out in our forums.

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