Some types and grades of bladder cancer spread quickly. Doctors can treat this disease in several ways. However, treatments are most effective before bladder cancer spreads.
The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower part of the abdomen. It collects and stores urine from the kidneys before releasing it.
In this article, we discuss what bladder cancer is, which types of the disease can spread quickly, and where it spreads. We also explore bladder cancer symptoms and treatments for the disease when it has spread.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about
Doctors classify a person’s bladder cancer in several different ways.
The grade of bladder cancer describes how atypical the cancer cells are and how
Low grade bladder cancer cells do not look very atypical. They tend to grow and spread at a slower pace than high grade forms of the disease.
In contrast, high grade bladder cancer cells look atypical when doctors examine them under a microscope. They usually grow and spread faster than low grade cells. High grade bladder cancers may need urgent or powerful treatment.
A cancer’s invasiveness describes how far or where it has spread from the bladder.
For example, non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer describes cancer that is still inside the bladder lining. In contrast, muscle-invasive bladder cancer is when the disease spreads past the bladder lining and into or beyond the bladder muscle wall.
The most common type is non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, or early bladder cancer. Doctors also call this stage 1 bladder cancer.
While muscle-invasive bladder cancer is less common, it has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body. Doctors may also call this stage 2 bladder cancer.
Bladder cancer that spreads to another part of the body is called metastatic bladder cancer, or advanced bladder cancer. At stage 3, the disease has often spread to parts of the body near the bladder. At stage 4, it often spreads to other body parts.
- Adenocarcinomas: These cancers are very rare, invasive, and start in gland-forming cells. About 1% of bladder cancers are adenocarcinomas.
- Small cell carcinomas: Less than 1% of bladder cancers are small cell carcinomas. They start in a person’s neuroendocrine cells and typically grow fast.
- Squamous cell carcinomas: Around 1–2% of bladder cancers in the United States are squamous cell carcinomas. They spread quickly in many cases.
- prostate, which is a small gland in the male body that helps make semen
- ureters, which are tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder
- urethra, which is a tube that enables urine to leave the body
If a person’s bladder cancer spreads further, it is likely to spread to their:
Bladder cancer symptoms can vary. The
People may have very small amounts of blood in their urine that come and go. In some cases, it may only be detectable with a test. Other common symptoms of bladder cancer include:
- urinating frequently
- a feeling a need to urinate even if a person’s bladder is not full
- pain or a burning feeling when urinating
- often urinating at night
If a person’s bladder cancer is large or has spread to other body parts, their symptoms may include:
- surgery to remove cancerous tissue in a person’s bladder or investigate how far the cancer has spread
- immunotherapy techniques, such as intravesical Bacillus Calmette-Guerin
- targeted therapy
- cystectomy, or surgery to remove all or part of the bladder
If bladder cancer has spread, doctors usually
Doctors may also suggest people take part in clinical trials that explore new drugs, procedures, and treatments for bladder cancer.
Some types of high grade and invasive bladder cancers may spread quickly. However, not all bladder cancers spread to other areas of the body.
If a person experiences any symptoms of this disease, they need to seek professional medical attention. A doctor can find out if bladder cancer is causing their symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.