Bladder Cancer

Bladder Cancer | UPMC Italy

Bladder cancer is cancer of the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder is the structure that holds urine produced by the kidneys. Bladder cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the bladder lining grow and form cancerous tumors.

Sometimes the tumor stays in the superficial lining of the bladder. It also can invade the deeper layers of the bladder and spread to other organs.

In 2023, bladder cancer was found to be the fifth most diagnosed cancer in Italy, with 29,700 cases, with a much higher incidence in the male population (23,700 new cases) (source: I numeri del cancro in Italia 2023).

What causes bladder cancer?

The exact cause of bladder cancer is unknown, but smoking tobacco is a major risk factor for developing it.

Other risk factors are:

  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Male gender
  • Workplace exposure to certain paints, dyes, metals, or petroleum products
  • Environmental pollution
  • Prior chemotherapy or radiation treatments
  • History of bladder infections
  • Taking the diabetes drug pioglitazone for more than one year
  • Using urinary catheters for extended periods of time

What are the symptoms of bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer can have a variety of symptoms including:

  • Blood in urine
  • Painful or frequent urination
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Lower back pain
  • Weight loss for no clear reason
  • Decreased appetite

If you have any of these symptoms, call your medical provider for an appointment to find out if you have bladder cancer or another medical condition.

How is bladder cancer diagnosed?

The specialist examination begins with an accurate patient history, after which the specialist may recommend further tests, including:

  • Urinalysis, to check for the presence of blood.
  • Urinary cytology, a test to detect cancerous cells.
  • Cystoscopy: in a quick and painless procedure, a cystoscope, a thin instrument with a light and a camera, is inserted into the bladder to detect any signs of cancer.
  • Biopsy, to determine whether a mass is cancerous.
  • Imaging: a CT scan of the chest, abdomen or pelvis may be needed to determine the extent of the disease.

Treatment for bladder cancer

The good news is that, if diagnosed in the early stages, bladder cancer is easily curable. However, treatment may be less effective if the disease has progressed.

The specialist will identify the most suitable treatment depending on the stage, grade and invasiveness of the tumour:

  • Surveillance through routine cystoscopies without further treatment.
  • Intravesical treatment: a treatment with chemotherapeutic agents placed inside the bladder, which can help prevent the reappearance of cancer cells.
  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy, also in combination with other treatments.
  • Chemotherapy, either to reduce the size of a tumour before surgery or to kill the remaining cancer cells after surgery.
  • Immunotherapy to boost the immune system, enabling it to attack cancer cells.

Learn more about UPMC Salvator Mundi International Hospital’s Urology service.