Bladder cancer is usually transitional cell carcinoma. Symptoms include hematuria; later, urinary obstruction can cause pain. Diagnosis is by cystoscopy and biopsy. Treatment is with fulguration, intravesical instillations, surgery, chemotherapy, or a combination.
In the US, > 70,000 new cases of bladder cancer and about 14,700 deaths occur each year. Bladder cancer is the 4th most common cancer among men and is less common among women; male:female incidence is about 3:1. Bladder cancer is more common among whites than blacks, and incidence increases with age.
Risk factors include the following:
Types of bladder cancer include
In > 40% of patients, tumors recur at the same or another site in the bladder, particularly if tumors are large or poorly differentiated or if several tumors are present. Bladder cancer tends to metastasize to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bone. Expression of tumor gene p53 may be associated with progression.
In the bladder, carcinoma in situ is high grade but noninvasive and usually multifocal; it tends to recur.
Symptoms and Signs
Most patients present with unexplained hematuria (gross or microscopic). Some patients present with anemia, and hematuria is detected during evaluation. Irritative voiding symptoms (dysuria, burning, frequency) and pyuria are also common at presentation. Pelvic pain occurs with advanced cancer, when a pelvic mass may be palpable.
Bladder cancer is suspected clinically. Urine cytology, which may detect malignant cells, may be done. Cystoscopy (see Genitourinary Tests and Procedures: Cystoscopy) and biopsy of abnormal areas are usually also done initially because these tests are needed even if urine cytology is negative. The role for urinary antigen tests is still evolving, particularly for low-grade tumors.
For low-stage (superficial, stage T1) tumors, which comprise 70 to 80% of bladder cancers, cystoscopy with biopsy is sufficient for staging. If a tumor is found to invade muscle (≥ stage T2), abdominal and pelvic CT and chest x-ray are done to determine tumor extent and evaluate for metastases. Patients with invasive tumors undergo bimanual examination (rectal examination in men, rectovaginal examination in women) while under anesthesia for cystoscopy and biopsy. The standard TNM (tumor, node, metastasis) staging system is used (see Table 1: Genitourinary Cancer: Genitourinary Cancer Staging ).
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Superficial bladder cancer (carcinoma in situ, stage Ta or T1) rarely causes death. For patients with invasion of the bladder musculature, the 5-yr survival rate is about 50%, but adjuvant chemotherapy may improve these results. Generally, prognosis for patients with progressive or recurrent invasive bladder cancer is poor. Prognosis for patients with squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma of the bladder is also poor, because these cancers are usually highly infiltrative and detected only at an advanced stage.
Superficial cancers can be completely removed by transurethral resection or fulguration. Repeated bladder instillations of chemotherapeutic drugs, such as mitomycin C, may reduce risk of recurrence. Doxorubicin and thiotepa are alternatives but rarely used. For carcinoma in situ and other high-grade, superficial, transitional cell carcinomas, immunotherapeutic treatments, such as BCG instillation, alone or in conjunction with interferon alfa-2b, after transurethral resection is generally more effective than chemotherapy instillations.
Tumors that penetrate the muscle (ie, ≥ stage T2) usually require radical cystectomy (removal of bladder and adjacent structures) with concomitant urinary diversion; partial cystectomy is possible for < 5% of patients. Cystectomy is being done with increasing frequency after initial chemotherapy in patients with locally advanced disease. Urinary diversion traditionally involves routing urine through an ileal conduit to an abdominal stoma and collecting it in an external drainage bag. Alternatives such as orthotopic neobladder or continent cutaneous diversion are very common and are appropriate for many, if not most, patients. For both procedures, an internal reservoir is constructed from the intestine. For the orthotopic neobladder, the reservoir is connected to the urethra. Patients empty the reservoir by relaxing the pelvic floor muscles and increasing abdominal pressure, so that urine passes through the urethra almost naturally. Most patients maintain urinary control during the day, but some incontinence may occur at night. For continent cutaneous urinary diversion, the reservoir is connected to a continent abdominal stoma. Patients empty the reservoir by self-catheterization at regular intervals throughout the day.
If surgery is contraindicated or refused, radiation therapy alone or with chemotherapy may provide 5-yr survival rates of 20 to 40%. Radiation therapy may cause radiation cystitis or proctitis or bladder contracture.
Patients should be monitored every 3 to 6 mo for progression or recurrence.
Metastatic and recurrent cancers
Metastases require chemotherapy, which is frequently effective but rarely curative unless metastases are confined to lymph nodes. Combination chemotherapy may prolong life in patients with metastatic disease.
Treatment of recurrent cancer depends on clinical stage and site of recurrence and previous treatment. Recurrence after transurethral resection of superficial tumors is usually treated with a 2nd resection or fulguration.
Last full review/revision December 2007 by David A. Swanson, MD