Bladder Cancer

Cancer of the bladder occurs when cells in the bladder grow and divide in an abnormal way.

Last modified: February 10, 2022

Quick facts about bladder cancerQuick facts

  • Bladder cancer is more common in men than women and is one of the ten most common cancers diagnosed in Australian men
  • The likelihood of bladder cancer developing in people aged up to 85 years is one in 97 (or 1%)
  • The five year survival rate after having bladder cancer is 55%

Types of bladder cancerTypes of bladder cancer

The bladder is a muscular balloon-shaped organ that can expand and contract (get smaller) depending on how much urine is in the bladder.

The bladder is made up of four layers of tissue. The tissue that your cancer develops in helps determine the type of bladder cancer you have:

The urothelium consists of cells that keep the urine in the bladder and prevent it being absorbed into the body. It is the first layer inside of the bladder.

The lamina propria is next to the urothelium layer and consists of blood vessels.

The muscularis propria is the thickest of all layers and is responsible for contracting the bladder to empty urine.

The perivesical tissue surrounds all other layers of the bladder and consists mainly of fatty tissue to help protect the bladder.

Signs and symptoms of bladder cancerSigns and symptoms

As signs and symptoms for bladder cancer can be similar to other conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive a bladder cancer diagnosis.

Symptoms can include:

  • Blood in urine – This can be in small amounts and may be brownish or red in colour. It tends to come on quickly, and can come and go

  • Changes in urination – Such as feeling the need to urinate more often or pain (such as a burning sensation) when urinating

  • Pain in the pelvis or lower back – Usually on one side

Stages of bladder cancerStages

The TNM system is used to stage bladder cancer, and it helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like. The TNM stands for:

  • Tumour – the depth of invasion through bladder wall
  • Node – is a measure of whether lymph nodes have been affected
  • Metastasis – the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs of the body

The TNM information, along with other tests, helps determine the stage of your bladder cancer using the guidelines below. A biopsy of the tumour will also provide information to help your doctors ‘grade’ your cancer. This takes into account how quickly it will grow and the chance of it coming back.

Low grade

Most tumours in the bladder are considered low grade, which means the cancer cells are slow growing and do not tend to spread and look like bladder cells

High grade

These cancer cells look very different to bladder cells and tend to grow quickly and spread to other tissues in the body

Treatment for bladder cancer

There are many different types of treatment for bladder cancer. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Frequently asked questions about bladder cancerFAQs

Is bladder cancer hereditary?

It is not common for bladder cancer to be passed down from generation to generation, although people can inherit genetic mutations from their parents which can increase the risk of developing bladder cancer.

What causes bladder cancer?

The reasons for the development of bladder cancer are not completely understood, however there are certain risk factors that can make people more likely to develop bladder cancer including:

  • Smoking– This is the leading modifiable risk factor for bladder cancer, causing three times more bladder cancers in smokers compared to non-smokers
  • Exposure to chemicals– Chemicals in the workplace such as aromatic amines, which are used in the dye industry, can increase the risk of bladder cancer. Exposure to other organic chemicals used in certain industries such as the paint, textile, hairdressing, fire-fighting and truck driving industries can also increase the risk of bladder cancer
  • Age – Bladder cancer risk increases with age, with most people being over 60 years of age when diagnosed
  • Sex – Being male increases your risk for bladder cancer compared with women
  • Regular infections – Such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), bladder stones or kidney infections can increase the risk of bladder cancer, as well as long-term use of catheters
  • Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy – Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation to the pelvis area can increase the risk of bladder cancer
  • Diabetes medication – The use of the drug pioglitazone has been implicated in the increased risk of bladder cancer
  • Chronic irritation – From indwelling catheter
  • Medical history – People can also be at higher risk of developing bladder cancer if they’ve had bladder cancer previously or if they experienced particular birth defects impacting the bladder
How common is bladder cancer?

Approximately 2,800 Australians are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year.

Bladder cancer is more common in men than women, with men three times more likely to be diagnosed in Australia.

What can I do to decrease my risk of bladder cancer?

Avoiding smoking and reducing exposure to certain chemicals can reduce your risks of developing bladder cancer, but do not guarantee its prevention.

There are a number of lifestyle-related factors you may like to consider to reduce your risk of developing cancer in general, like:

  • Getting regular exercise – Cancer Australia recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day
  • Reducing your alcohol intake – If you choose to drink, try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet – Eat a fibre-rich diet from grain and legume sources, as well as enjoy a variety of fruit (2 serves) and vegetables (5 serves) per day, limit your intake of salt, saturated fats, and avoid all processed meat
Where can I find out more about bladder cancer screening?

There is no national screening program for bladder cancer in Australia.

Are there clinical trials available for bladder cancer that I can participate in?

Icon offers clinical trials across a wide range of cancer types and treatments. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor who will be able to find a trial that might be right for you and your cancer.

See current clinical trials delivered by Icon Cancer Centre.


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council. (2020). Understanding Bladder Cancer – A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends. Retrieved 6 December 2022 from
  2. Australian Government: Cancer Australia. (2021). Bladder cancer. Retrieved 6 December 2021 from
  3. Cancer Council. (2020). Bladder cancer symptoms. Retrieved 6 December 2021 from
  4. American Cancer Society. (2021). Bladder cancer stages. Retrieved on 6 December 2021 from
  5. Cancer Council. (2020). Staging and prognosis for bladder cancer. Retrieved 6 December 2021 from
  6. Cancer Council. (2020). Bladder cancer. Retrieved 6 December 2021 from
  7. Australian Government: Cancer Australia. (2021). Bladder cancer – screening. Retrieved 6 December 2021 from
  8. Cancer Council. (2021). Types of cancer – Bladder cancer. Retrieved 6 December 2021 from
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