Introduction to bladder cancer

Bladder cancer is a common cancer that is underappreciated by the general community. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 82,000 bladder cancer cases are diagnosed every year. 

Unfortunately, about 16,000 people in the country die from bladder cancer every year. It is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in men. 

Risk Factors

People who have a family history of bladder cancer have a higher risk of getting it themselves. 

However, one of the main risk factors associated with bladder cancer is smoking. Smoking cessation can decrease your risk of bladder cancer and most cancers. 

Other chemical exposures (like those in tobacco smoke, or arsenic) also are associated with bladder cancer due to the body’s difficulty in breaking down the toxins. 


Patients with bladder cancer will usually seek medical attention because of visible or microscopic blood in the urine, otherwise known as hematuria. 

If you have blood in your urine, get checked out by a urologist to rule out bladder cancer. There are many causes of blood in the urine, but bladder cancer is the most serious. 

Other symptoms of early-state bladder cancer can include:

  • Changes in bladder habits or symptoms of irritation.
  • Painful urination.
  • Increased urinary frequency and/or urgency. 

Treatment options should be individualized and include your unique life circumstances in order to develop an effective cancer treatment plan. 

Two-thirds of bladder cancers are superficial, meaning they are only in the inside lining of the bladder. Superficial bladder cancers are treated with local removal by a urologist, using a scope passed through the urethra. Some medicines can be given to patients with superficial bladder cancers that will reduce the chances of recurrence. 

The remaining third are invasive into the wall of the bladder and can spread to other organs (metastasis). Invasive bladder cancers are most often treated with surgery — a cystectomy or removal of the bladder entirely. 

Many patients with invasive bladder cancer will receive chemotherapy either before or after surgery. Some can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy at the same time, which is designated as concurrent chemo-radiation. The cure rates of chemo-radiation are generally felt to be modestly inferior to the curative surgery but can be an appropriate therapy for some patients. 

Numerous are available to treat bladder cancer either after surgery or when it metastasizes. These medications utilize a patient’s immune system to treat the cancer. 

If you have been diagnosed with Stage IV (metastasis) bladder cancer, you have multiple options for therapy, including combination chemotherapy regimens, immunotherapy and antibody-drug conjugate treatments. 

The goal of all cancer therapy is to improve your symptoms, cause remission and cancer control, and improve survival. 


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Dr. Crain Garrot

Specialties: Hematology, Medical Oncology

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Dr. Garrot is board certified in medical oncology, hematology and internal medicine. He sees patients at Georgia Cancer Specialists in Canton and Marietta.

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