What Are the Symptoms of Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer accounts for only five percent of new cancer cases in America — a small piece of the pie — but considering it is the fourth most common cancer in men, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease.

Symptoms of bladder cancer

The most common sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, also known as hematuria. At times, there may be enough blood to turn the urine pink, orange, or red — but in many cases, the urine appears normal and blood is detected through a urine test given due to other symptoms or as part of a regular checkup.

Other symptoms may include changes in bladder patterns, such as:

  • Urinating more frequently
  • Pain during urination
  • The urge to urinate when the bladder is not full
  • Having difficulty urinating

These symptoms are often indicative of less serious conditions, such as an infection, kidney or bladder stones, or other benign conditions in the bladder or kidney. But if you experience these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor to identify and treat the cause.

What are the treatment options for bladder cancer?

There are several treatment options depending on the stage of diagnosed cancer. For any patient with bladder cancer, it’s ideal to have a multidisciplinary team, where you have providers assessing your specific case to figure out what treatment options are available to you and what might be the best treatment option for you, specifically.

Bladder cancer is usually found in its earlier stages, when it is highly treatable with immunotherapy involving the bacteria Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG). In these cases, cancerous cells are removed from the bladder wall, and the bladder is filled with a BCG solution, which destroys the cancer cells and is effective in preventing the spread of recurrence of cancer.

In cases where the cancer has advanced and spread to other parts of the body before being diagnosed, you may experience symptoms including lower back pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, bone pain, and swelling in the feet.

Advanced bladder cancer was historically treated with chemotherapy, clinical trials, and occasionally surgery or radiation therapy. However, Dana-Farber investigators recently found success with immunotherapy in metastatic bladder cancer patients whose disease worsened after chemotherapy treatment.

If I need surgery for bladder cancer, what is recovery time like?

How long recovery will be after a surgery for bladder cancer depends a lot on which procedure you get. Every patient is unique, and every situation is different. If you do have questions about how long your recovery will take, be sure to talk to your surgeon to get a more specific answer.

Bladder biopsy (TURBT, transurethral resection of bladder tumor)

  • Shorter recovery; usually an outpatient procedure from which you go home the same day
  • Sometimes you might be admitted overnight and observed in the hospital and then sent home.
  • In some situations, patients might be sent home with a catheter and will need that in place for a few days.

Larger surgeries for bladder cancer (involving removal of the bladder with reconstruction, which is called a cystectomy with a urinary diversion)

  • Longer recovery, typically five to seven days spent in hospital
  • It will take anywhere from two to three months for you to really recover and get back to your original baseline.

Learn more about how we diagnose and treat bladder cancer at Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Cancer.