The bladder is a hollow, muscular, balloon-like organ with a flexible wall. It is situated in the pelvis and collects and stores urine. Bladder cancer starts in the bladder lining (urothelium) but can then spread to deeper bladder layers.

The urinary tract

  • The kidneys produce urine. This is transferred to the bladder by thin tubes called ureters.
  • A urine-proof lining (urothelium) covers the inside of the bladder and stops urine going back into the body.
  • The lining cells are called urothelial or transitional cells.
  • When the bladder is full, its muscles contract and push urine into the urethra.
  • In women, the urethra is a very short tube that ends just in front of the vagina.
  • In men, the urethra is longer. It passes through the prostate gland and ends at the tip of the penis.

Diagram of the male urinary system
Diagram of the male urinary system

Diagram of the female urinary system
Diagram of the female urinary system

Bladder cancer is more common in men

  • Worldwide, bladder cancer is the ninth most common cancer.
  • It is four times more common in men than women.
  • It usually affects older adults, but can occur at any age.
  • It is most common in men aged 55+ years.
  • It is rare in people aged less than 40 years.

Bladder cancer often recurs

  • Most bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, when they are highly treatable.
  • Even early-stage cancers are likely to recur.
  • Patients who survive bladder cancer require follow-up testing for many years after their first treatment.

Bladder cancer: superficial or invasive?

  • The bladder wall has several layers from inside to out (see Diagram):
    • Urothelium.
    • Lamina propria - a thin layer of connective tissue beneath the urothelium.
    • Muscularis propria - a muscle layer.
    • Fatty connective tissue.
  • Almost all bladder cancers start in the urothelium.
  • If bladder cancer affects only the urothelium it is called superficial.
  • Bladder cancers may spread into deeper bladder layers; they are then more difficult to treat.

If bladder cancer spreads to the muscle layer it is called invasive.

Diagram of Urethra

 

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