How Common is Bladder Cancer in Women?

In the United States, bladder cancer is much less common in women than it is in men.1,2 In fact, bladder cancer is not one of the top 10 most common cancers among women. According to research by the American Cancer Society, women are around three times less likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer than men are. They estimate that around 18,500 women in the United States will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2017. A woman’s chance of developing bladder cancer is around 1 in 88.

The National Cancer Institute reports that women who are White/Caucasian American have a slightly higher chance of getting bladder cancer than African American women. White/Caucasian American women are around twice as likely to get bladder cancer than Hispanic American or Asian American/Pacific Islander women. For every 100,000 people in the United States, around 9.1 White/Caucasian American women, 6.8 African American women, 4.9 Hispanic American women, and 3.9 Asian American/Pacific Islander women are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year.

The chance of getting bladder cancer is much higher among older women than younger women. It is most common among people who are between the ages of 75 and 84 years old, and it is usually diagnosed in people who are over the age of 55 years old.

What are the causes?

Bladder cancer develops when a change in certain cells in the bladder causes those cells to grow uncontrollably.3,4 These cells can then gather together to form a mass called a tumor. Researchers believe that some women are more likely to develop bladder cancer due potentially to a certain gene that is passed down through their family.

However, a major risk factor for bladder cancer is smoking. Women who smoke are at least twice as likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of getting bladder cancer is never to smoke, and to stop smoking if you already do.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of bladder cancer are blood in the urine, frequent or urgent need to urinate, and painful urination.3,4 These symptoms can be very similar to the symptoms of a bladder infection or a urinary tract infection (UTI). Speak with your healthcare provider if you have those symptoms, especially if you take prescribed antibiotics for a bladder infection or UTI, and the symptoms are still there. Treatment for bladder cancer is more effective when the cancer is detected as early as possible.

How is it treated?

Research has shown that women are more likely to have bladder cancer diagnosed at a later stage than men are.4-6 It also shows that bladder cancer in women can be more difficult to treat effectively when it is diagnosed later. Researchers are still trying to understand why, but they think that it may have several different reasons. One reason may be that women have different anatomy in the lower urinary tract than men, which gives them a higher risk of worse bladder cancer outcomes. For example, men and women have different types of urethras and different muscle structures around the bladder. Another reason may be that bladder cancer in women is often diagnosed incorrectly as a urinary tract infection, bladder infection, menstruation, or menopausal bleeding. This can cause the bladder cancer to be diagnosed later, which can make it more difficult to treat.

Treatment for bladder cancer depends on where the tumor is located and whether the tumor has spread within the bladder or into other parts of the body. In people who are diagnosed with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, the tumor is located in the lining of the bladder, and has not grown in the muscles of the bladder walls. Treatment for this type of bladder cancer often involves surgery to remove the tumor called transurethral resection. Some people will also have treatment with intravesical chemotherapy (chemotherapy injected directly into the bladder). This is to kill any remaining cancer cells and help keep cancer cells from growing back.

People who are diagnosed with muscle-invasive bladder cancer have bladder tumors that have grown into the walls of the bladder. Treatment for this type of cancer may involve surgery to remove part of the bladder (partial cystectomy). Other people may need radical cystectomy, in which the surgeon removes the entire bladder as well as nearby lymph nodes and other nearby organs that may be affected by cancer, such as the ovaries and the uterus. During this type of surgery, the surgeon can often create another way for the body to store and pass urine. Other types of treatment for muscle-invasive bladder cancer may include radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy to help kill the cancer cells and keep them from growing back.

Written by Anna Nicholson | Last review date: September 2017.
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