Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Bladder cancer

4-minute read

Bladder cancer develops when abnormal cells in the bladder grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. Around 3000 Australians are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year and it is more common in people aged over 60 and in men. It can be treated if it is detected early on.

What is bladder cancer?

The bladder is a small organ in the lower part of the stomach which stores urine. If you develop bladder cancer, abnormal cells grow in the lining of the bladder. This is called superficial bladder cancer.

The cancer cells can sometimes spread to the muscle wall of the bladder or even further to other organs or lymph nodes. This is called invasive bladder cancer.

While it can be treated if detected early on, more than 1,000 people in Australia still die of bladder cancer each year.

Bladder cancer risk factors

We don't fully understand why bladder cancer develops in some people. Some factors may increase the risk:

  • smoking
  • exposure to certain chemicals
  • diabetes
  • family history of bladder cancer
  • chronic inflammation of the bladder
  • some sorts of chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for cancer

Types of bladder cancer

The most common form of bladder cancer is called urothelial carcinoma. This starts in the urothelial cells in the bladder wall.

Rarer types of bladder cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the bladder, and adenocarcinoma, which starts in a type of cell that produces mucus.

Bladder cancer symptoms

The most common sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. It usually happens suddenly but isn’t painful. If you ever see blood in your urine, you should always get it checked by a doctor.

Other symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • having trouble emptying the bladder when you go to the toilet
  • a burning feeling when you’re trying to pass urine
  • needing to pass urine often, or feeling the need to go urgently
  • pain in your lower stomach or back

None of these symptoms are necessarily caused by bladder cancer. But if you have any of the above, tell your doctor.

Bladder anatomy
Anatomy of the kidneys and bladder with a bladder tumour

Bladder cancer diagnosis

Your doctor will examine you and may order several tests, including blood tests, urine tests and scans such as a CT, ultrasound or MRI scan.

However, the main test to diagnose bladder cancer is called a cystoscopy, which is usually performed by a specialist doctor called a urologist. The doctor will look inside your bladder with a small camera. If they see anything suspicious, they will take a biopsy, a small sample of tissue, to be examined in a laboratory. 

Bladder cancer treatment

Any treatment will depend on the type of bladder cancer and how far it has spread.

Surgery may be done to remove any tumours. This is called a ‘transurethral resection’ and is done using a cystoscope with a wire loop at the end. The cancer cells can also be burned or lasered during surgery.

If you have non-invasive bladder cancer, you may be given medicine to stimulate your own immune system to fight the cancer (known as immunotherapy).

Some people will have chemotherapy medicine delivered straight into the bladder via a catheter

Invasive bladder cancer is usually treated with surgery and sometimes radiotherapy and chemotherapy as well. If the cancer has spread to the muscle and other organs, the entire bladder will probably need to be removed along with nearby lymph nodes. A new bladder will be constructed for you either inside your body or in a bag outside your body.

Living with bladder cancer

If your bladder has been removed, you will have reconstructive surgery. You will need to learn how to manage a bladder reconstruction and will be helped with this by continence nurses and physiotherapists. For more information, visit the Cancer Council Victoria website.

After you have been treated for cancer, it is normal to feel afraid that the cancer will return. If you are struggling, it is important to seek support from your doctor, a therapist or other people who have been through cancer. 

More information

The Continence Foundation of Australia provides information about bladder control. Call them on 1800 33 00 66.

The National Public Toilet Map helps you find the location of the nearest public toilet. You can download it as an app.

Information on the social and emotional impact of cancer is available in the Cancer Australia resource, Cancer – how are you travelling?

Cancer Council Australia provides services and support to all people affected by cancer. Call on 13 11 20.

beyondblue provides support for people with depression and anxiety.

Last reviewed: May 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Bladder Cancer Treatment - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about bladder cancer and find out about the different treatments available.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Transitional cell bladder cancer symptoms and treatment | myVMC

Transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder accounts for 90% of bladder cancers. Smoking and bladder irritation (e.g. bladder stones) increase the risk.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Bladder Cancer - Information, Treatment & Support - CanTeen

Bladder cancer affects the organ that collects and stores urine in the lower part of the abdomen.Learn more about causes and treatments with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Intravesical BCG (bladder cancer treatment) information | myVMC

Intravesical BCG (Bacillus Calmette Guerin) is a vaccine administered into the bladder to prevent tuberculosis and reduce the recurrence of bladder cancer.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Squamous cell bladder cancer symptoms and treatment | myVMC

Squamous cell carcinoma of the bladder accounts for 5% of all bladder cancers, the most common type of urinary system cancer. It mostly affects males.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Bladder cancer fact sheet | Cancer Australia

An overview of bladder cancer including types, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment and finding support.

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Childhood Bladder Cancer

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Rare Cancers Australia - Directory - Bladder Cancer

Rare Cancers Australia is a charity whose purpose is to improve the lives and health outcomes of Australians living with a rare or less common cancer.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Bladder cancer - Cancer Council Australia

What is bladder cancer? Find out about the symptoms, causes, treatment options and more. Get the facts from Cancer Council here.

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Platinum therapy (anti-cancer treatment) information | myVMC

Platinum therapy is a type of chemotherapy used to treat ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and head and neck cancer.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo