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Metastatic Bladder Cancer

What is metastatic bladder cancer?

The bladder is a flexible, hollow organ that is mostly made of muscle, but it has a thin layer of cells lining the inside of the bladder walls called the urothelium.1,2 In most patients with bladder cancer, the cancer cells started to grow in this inner lining of the bladder. As the number of cancer cells grows, they can form a mass called a tumor. When cancer cells break away from where they started to grow and start spreading to other parts of the body, it is called metastasis. Metastatic bladder cancer is the name for bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, the liver, or the bones. Even if the cancer cells are first discovered in the bones, for example, if they first started growing in the bladder, it is still called metastatic bladder cancer.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Common symptoms of metastatic bladder cancer include:3

  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent and/or difficult urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Need to urinate despite an empty bladder
  • Being unable to urinate
  • Lower back and abdominal pain
  • Swelling in the feet
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Bone pain

Let your healthcare provider know right away if you are experiencing these symptoms. If your healthcare provider thinks that your symptoms may be caused by bladder cancer, you will need to have more tests performed.

A test called cystoscopy is used to examine and take tissue samples from the bladder. If the tests find cancer cells or tumors in the bladder, then more tests will be needed to find out if there are bladder cancer cells in other parts of the body.

A procedure called transurethral resection is commonly used to learn more about the bladder cancer. Other tests may include CT scan, MRI scanning, X-rays, and bone scans.

Treating metastatic bladder cancer

If you have been diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer, then your team of healthcare providers will work with you to develop a treatment plan. The treatment plan will depend on many different factors. These factors include where in the body the bladder cancer has spread and the side effects of different treatments, as well as your overall health.

Treatment for metastatic bladder cancer is different for each person, depending on your specific situation… Your healthcare providers will discuss different options with you, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each type of treatment option. The goals of most types of treatment are to slow down how fast the cancer cells are growing and to shrink the tumor as much as possible. Other important goals of treatment are to help patients live as long as possible and to make sure that they have the best possible quality of life.

Treatment for metastatic bladder cancer may involve a combination of chemotherapy treatments. Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to help stop or reduce the growth of cancer cells. This type of treatment for metastatic bladder cancer is usually injected directly into the blood stream.

Patients being treated for metastatic bladder cancer also receive treatment to help relieve the symptoms of cancer and to reduce the side effects that chemotherapy treatments can cause.

Some patients with this type of bladder cancer may choose to take part in a clinical trial for new types of cancer treatments. Your healthcare providers can provide more information about whether you are eligible to take part in a clinical trial.

What is the prognosis?

Most patients with metastatic bladder cancer cannot be cured.4 However, there are treatments available that can help some patients with this kind of cancer to live longer and improve their quality of life.

Being diagnosed with metastatic cancer can be very upsetting and stressful, but healthcare providers are there to help—talk with them about how you and your loved ones are feeling about your diagnosis. They can offer you support and guidance about how to deal with your feelings and fears. Many patients also find support groups for patients and their families to be helpful, because there are many patients also coming to terms with the same types of emotions.

Written by Anna Nicholson | Last review date: September 2017.
  1. Bladder Cancer Treatment- Stages of Bladder Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Accessed September 2017.
  2. Bladder Cancer. ASCO. Accessed September 2017.
  3. Bladder Cancer. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed September 2017.
  4. Bladder Cancer Treatment- Cellular Classification of Bladder Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Accessed September 2017.