Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
Bladder cancer develops in the cells that line the inner walls of the bladder, a muscular organ in the pelvis that stores urine. During urination, the muscles of the bladder contract, forcing the stored urine into the urethra, where it then flows out of the body.
For reasons that are not yet fully understood within the general medical community, bladder cells sometimes undergo abnormal changes that cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. The resulting excess cells then bind together and form tumors.
Early signs of bladder cancer
Bladder cancer can be detected early—before it has spread beyond the bladder—when more treatments are generally effective. Most of the early-stage symptoms involve urination. In many cases, the first noticeable sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine (hematuria), which can make the urine appear dark yellow, light pink, bright red or reddish-brown. Sometimes, a microscopic amount of blood is present, which cannot be seen with the naked eye and can only be detected by a lab test, such as a urinalysis or urine cytology.
Other, lesser-known symptoms of bladder cancer include:
- Pain and burning sensations during urination
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Urinary urgency, even when the bladder is not full
- An inability to empty the bladder
Most bladder cancer symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions as well, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones and noncancerous bladder masses. Therefore, it is important to have the cause promptly investigated by a physician.
Signs of advanced bladder cancer
- An inability to urinate
- Pain in one side of the lower back
- Pelvic pain
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- Bone pain
- Swollen feet
- Overwhelming fatigue
- General weakness
Depending on how far the malignancy has spread (metastasized), advanced bladder cancer may also begin producing symptoms in distant parts of the body. For example, if metastatic bladder cancer reaches the lungs, it may cause breathing difficulties, chronic coughing, chest pain and changes to the person’s voice. Symptoms of advanced bladder cancer that has spread to the liver may include jaundice, discolored urine and midsection pain and swelling. And bladder cancer that has traveled to the bones may weaken those bones and make them more likely to fracture.
Much like the early symptoms of bladder cancer, the advanced symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions as well. To help ensure an accurate diagnosis and the best possible outcome, it is important to promptly discuss any unusual changes with a physician.
Bladder cancer symptoms in men vs. women
Many people assume that the symptoms of bladder cancer in men are different than those in women, but that’s actually not the case. Men and women generally experience the same bladder cancer symptoms. However, because many signs of bladder cancer are easily mistaken for symptoms of other, less-serious conditions commonly experienced by females, women tend to be less likely than men to promptly seek professional care, leading to poorer outcomes.
For example, urinary tract infections (UTIs) can produce many of the same symptoms as bladder cancer, including blood in the urine, pain and a burning sensation while urinating, frequent urination and an urge to urinate even with an empty bladder. Although men can also develop UTIs, these infections are much more prevalent among women. In fact, according to the national Office on Women’s Health, women develop UTIs up to 30 times more often than men do. The agency also reports that more than half of women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime, and that approximately four in 10 women who develop a UTI will experience at least one more within the following six months.
Because UTIs are so common among women, it’s understandable that a woman experiencing the symptoms of bladder cancer might mistakenly assume that she’s instead suffering from a UTI. What’s more, UTIs often resolve on their own, without the need for medical intervention, so many women don’t place a high priority on seeking a professional opinion and instead take a wait-and-see approach. Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to consult with a physician after experiencing bladder cancer symptoms because they don’t necessarily associate those symptoms with a UTI.
Menstruation and menopausal bleeding—which only women experience—can also produce some of the same symptoms as bladder cancer. If a woman with undiagnosed bladder cancer notices blood in her urine, she might incorrectly assume that it’s simply a result of menopause or her menstrual cycle and not a cause for concern. A man, however, would likely be more alarmed to discover blood in his urine, and thus also more inclined to reach out to a medical professional.
Women’s delay in seeking professional care for bladder cancer symptoms provides the malignancy with additional time to grow and spread before being diagnosed, making it increasingly difficult to treat when it is eventually detected. Conversely, the likelihood of men seeking treatment during the early stages of bladder cancer may contribute to higher bladder cancer survival rates among men.
Why choose Moffitt Cancer Center for bladder cancer treatment?
The renowned Urologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center features a multispecialty team that focuses exclusively on the diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer. We offer the latest options—as well as a full range of supportive care services—in a single location. As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moffitt is also nationally recognized for our extensive research initiatives, groundbreaking treatment advances and robust clinical trials program.
If you would like to discuss your bladder cancer symptoms with a specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online—no referral is required. As Florida’s top cancer hospital, we have turned the traditional patient care model on its head. Our goal is to provide our patients with rapid, individualized care so they can begin their treatment journey as soon as possible, so we will connect you to a cancer expert in just one day.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Roger Li
Gender Differences in Bladder Cancer | BladderCancer.net
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