There are different stages of bladder cancer depending on how the tumor has spread. The staging of bladder cancer can help a medical professional map out the best treatment plan and improve a person’s chance of survival.

Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that affects the bladder’s lining. It occurs when there is abnormal tissue growth in the lining of the bladder.

This article provides an overview of the stages of bladder cancer. It also covers symptoms of bladder cancer, treatment options, and more.

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A doctor may refer to stage 0 bladder cancer as either noninvasive papillary carcinoma or carcinoma in situ (CIS). This means abnormal cells are present in the bladder but they have not spread to nearby tissues.

Noninvasive papillary carcinoma, or stage 0A, can be either low grade or high grade. CIS, or stage 0is, is a high grade cancer. Grading refers to how the cancer looks under a microscope. Doctors may use the grade of cancer alongside the stage to help create a suitable treatment plan.

The main treatment for stage 0 cancer is transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT). TURBT involves inserting a thin instrument, called a resectoscope, up the urethra and into the bladder to remove the abnormal tissue.

Learn more about stage 0 cancer.

A person may have stage 1 bladder cancer when the tumor spreads under the bladder lining into the surrounding connective tissues without invading the muscle layer.

The initial treatment for stage 1 bladder cancer is TURBT with fulguration. It involves removing the tumor with a resectoscope. A person may then require additional treatments.

The cancer has invaded the muscle layer of the bladder but has not reached the lymph nodes yet

A person may require preoperative chemotherapy followed by radical cystectomy for stage 2 bladder cancer if it affects the muscle. This involves removing the bladder.

Learn about bladder removal surgery.

In stage 3 bladder cancer, the cancer has grown through the muscle. The cancer has invaded the fat layer and possibly nearby lymph nodes.

It can also spread within the reproductive system to other surrounding structures, such as the prostate, womb, or vagina. Medical experts may refer to this cancer stage as locally advanced bladder cancer.

A doctor may recommend chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery for stage 3 bladder cancer.

A doctor can classify bladder cancer as stage 4 if it has spread to distant parts of the body. This can include:

  • the pelvic or abdominal wall
  • the common iliac artery, which is the major blood supply to the pelvis
  • other organs, such as the lung, bones, and liver

Treatments can include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy

To determine the stage of bladder cancer, the doctor may order a biopsy or imaging test. The doctor will usually order this test if a person’s symptoms suggest they may have bladder cancer.

The doctor may order the following tests to diagnose and stage bladder cancer:

Learn more about staging cancer.

The symptoms of bladder cancer may vary by stage and from one person to another. While symptoms may be mild at an early stage, a person may experience severe symptoms as the condition progresses.

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine.

Other, less common symptoms include:

  • a sudden need to urinate
  • urinating more frequently
  • a burning sensation when urinating

At an advanced stage of the condition, a person may begin to experience symptoms, such as:

  • bone pain
  • pelvic pain
  • unexplained weight loss
  • edema or swelling of the legs

Learn more about the symptoms of bladder cancer.

The stage of bladder cancer is a crucial factor for determining the type and extent of treatment.

Possible treatments include:

  • radiotherapy
  • immunotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • surgery to remove the tumor
  • a cystectomy, or surgery to remove the bladder

A person’s doctor can advise on which treatments they recommend based on the stage of cancer and other factors, such as a person’s overall health.

Learn more about bladder cancer treatments.

According to the National Cancer Institute, bladder cancer staging examines the extent of cancer in the body while bladder cancer grading helps the doctor assess how the cells look under a microscope and how fast they can spread.

Here are some frequently asked questions about bladder cancer.

Is stage 2 bladder cancer fatal?

Stage 2 bladder cancer may not always be fatal. About 45% of people survive 5 years or more after a diagnosis.

Is stage 3 bladder cancer fatal?

Stage 3 bladder cancer may not always be fatal. While stage 3 is an advanced stage of bladder cancer, 40% of people survive 5 years or more after a diagnosis.

Is stage 4 bladder cancer curable?

Around 10% of people with stage 4 bladder cancer have a 5-year survival rate. Early diagnosis and treatment can help improve a person’s outlook, so it is important to seek medical advice as soon as a person has concerns about bladder cancer.

The survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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The bladder cancer stages are 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Medical professionals can use tumor size, whether or not the tumor has spread, and the extent of the spread to determine the stage of bladder cancer.

Although a person may have mild symptoms at the onset of bladder cancer, these can become severe over time without early diagnosis and treatment.

To determine the stage of bladder cancer, the doctor will order some diagnostic tests, including a biopsy, cystoscopy, or imaging test. Early diagnosis and treatment may help improve a person’s outlook with bladder cancer.