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What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer is the growth of abnormal tissue (tumour) in the bladder. There are several stages of bladder cancer. Your treatment and experience will depend on the specific characteristics of the tumour (referred to as “staging” the tumour) and the expertise of your medical team.

This section provides general information about bladder cancer, diagnosis, and various treatment options. Discuss with your doctor what is best in your individual situation.

The function of the bladder

The urinary bladder (referred to as ‘the bladder’) is the organ that collects and stores urine produced by the kidneys. It is a hollow stretchy bag made of muscle tissue that sits on the pelvic floor muscles. The bladder expands as urine from the kidneys collects before being passed out of the body through the urethra.

Fig. 1a: The genital tract in men.
Fig. 1a: The genital tract in men.
Fig. 1b: The genital tract in women.
Fig. 1b: The genital tract in women.
Fig. 2: A healthy bladder.
Fig. 2: A healthy bladder.

Stages of the disease

A tumour that grows towards the centre cavity of the bladder without growing into the muscle tissue of the bladder is called non–muscle invasive. These tumours are superficial and represent an early stage. This is the most common type of bladder cancer. In most cases, these tumours are not aggressive and rarely spread to other organs, so they are not usually lethal, they can however appear again (=recurrence) or develop aggressive features (=progression)

As the cancer grows into the muscle of the bladder and spreads into the surrounding muscles, it becomes muscle- invasive bladder cancer. This type of cancer has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body (metastatic disease) and is harder to treat. In some cases, it may be fatal.

If bladder cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes or other organs, it is called locally advanced or metastatic bladder cancer. At this stage, cure is unlikely, and treatment is limited to controlling the spread of the disease and reducing the symptoms.

This information was last updated in March 2017.

It contains general information about bladder cancer. If you have any specific questions about an individual medical situation you should consult your doctor or other professional health care provider.

This information was produced by the European Association of Urology (EAU) Patient Information Working Group.

The content of this leaflet is in line with the EAU Guidelines on Bladder Cancer 2016.


  • Dr. Mark Behrendt, Amsterdam (NL)
  • Dr. Juan Luís Vasquez, Herlev (DK)
  • Ms. Sharon Holroyd, Halifax (UK)
  • Dr. Andrea Necchi, Milan (IT)
  • Dr. Evanguelos Xylinas, Paris (FR)
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