Bladder Cancer

As Georgia’s largest and most comprehensive cancer program, Northside Hospital Cancer Institute (NHCI) is an experienced provider of cancer care for individuals diagnosed with bladder cancer.

What Is Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer is cancer that starts in the bladder. The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower abdomen or pelvis. Its main function is to hold and release urine. Bladder cancer often starts from the cells lining the bladder. These cells are called transitional cells.

Bladder cancers are classified by the way they grow:

  • Papillary tumors look like warts and are attached to a stalk.
  • Nonpapillary (sessile) tumors are flat. They are much less common and much more invasive.

Learn more about bladder cancer.

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Since the presence of bladder cancer can cause more noticeable symptoms than some other types of cancer, it can often be found early. Symptoms of early stage bladder cancer can include:

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

Symptoms of more advanced bladder cancer can include:

Learn more about bladder cancer symptoms.

Bladder Cancer Risk Factors

The exact cause of bladder cancer is not known, but there are several risk factors that make a person more likely to develop bladder cancer, including:

  • Smoking – Up to half of all bladder cancers in men and women are caused by cigarette smoke. Smokers are at least three times more likely to get bladder cancer than non-smokers are.
  • Chemical exposure – About 1 in 4 cases of bladder cancer is caused by coming into contact with cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens. Dye workers, rubber workers, aluminum workers, leather workers, truck drivers, and pesticide applicators are at high risk.
  • The use of certain medicines or herbal supplements
  • Exposure to arsenic in drinking water
  • History of chronic bladder infections and irritations
  • Personal or family history of bladder cancer or other urothelial (lining of the urinary tract) cancer
  • Genetic factors including a mutation of the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene, Cowden disease and Lynch syndrome
  • Prior chemotherapy treatment with cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • Prior radiation therapy treatment to the pelvis

As part of our comprehensive approach to cancer prevention and education, Northside Hospital offers Built To Quit, a smoking and tobacco cessation program offering resources to help individuals quit smoking and stop using other tobacco products. For additional information, please call 404-780-7653, send an email to smokingcessation@northside.com or register for a class online.

2019 Built to Quit
Class Schedule (English)
2019 Built to Quit
Class Schedule (Spanish)

Cancer Genetics Program

Northside Hospital’s Cancer Genetics Program is available to patients interested in genetic counseling and testing due to strong personal or family histories of certain genetic factors that can cause bladder cancer. Our team of certified genetic counselors help patients assess, understand and reduce the risk of developing certain types of genetically influenced cancer such as bladder cancer. For additional information, please call 404-851-6284 or email genetics@northside.com.

Bladder Cancer Diagnosis

Bladder cancer incidence is increasing both nationally and here in Georgia. In 2018, it was expected that nearly 2,000 Georgians would be diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Northside’s Prostate and Urologic Cancer Program uses the following tests and procedures to diagnose bladder cancer after a physical examination (including a rectal and pelvic exam) has been completed:

If tests confirm that bladder cancer is present, additional tests will be done to see if the cancer has spread. This is called staging. Staging helps providers guide future treatment and determine appropriate follow-up care.

Team of Bladder Cancer Specialists

The strength of Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Prostate and Urologic Cancer Program is our multidisciplinary team of dedicated, specially trained urologic cancer specialists who work together to provide individualized medical care for each cancer patient. Northside’s urologic cancer care team offers a comprehensive scope of medical services, the latest technology, leading-edge clinical research and compassionate cancer support. Our prostate and urologic cancer multidisciplinary care team consists of:

  • Urologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Certified genetic counselors
  • Oncology nurse navigators
  • Clinical research nurses

Rollover the graphic for more information

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Our urologic cancer experts meet regularly to prospectively discuss bladder cancer patients and agree upon evidence-based Bladder Cancer Treatment Options for each patient. This forum provides our medical specialists with the opportunity to discuss specific bladder cancer cases, national treatment guidelines and each bladder cancer patient’s unique life circumstances in order to develop an effective cancer treatment plan.

Bladder Cancer Treatment Options

Our Prostate and Urologic Cancer Program team is committed to providing high quality treatment options to bladder cancer patients and to making access to cancer care as convenient as possible. Every case of bladder cancer is different and treatment options can vary. Several factors play a role in determining the most appropriate course for treating the disease – age and health of the patient, stage of the disease, and benefits and side effects of each treatment option.

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute bladder cancer specialists and supportive cancer care team members work together to ensure all patients receive a personalized, evidence-based treatment plan specific to their cancer needs.

Expand the content below to learn more about each bladder cancer treatment option.

Surgery is typically a part of the treatment plan for most patients with bladder cancer. Whether or not a patient is a candidate for surgery largely depends upon the stage of their cancer and personal preference. The two types of surgery that are most commonly used to treat bladder cancer include:

  • Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) – A procedure that removes non-muscle invasive bladder cancers that are confined to the inner layers of the bladder. A TURBT is the most common treatment for early-stage or superficial bladder cancers.
  • Cystectomy – Surgery to remove the entire bladder (radical cystectomy) or a part of the bladder (partial cystectomy). Patients who undergo a radical cystectomy will also need to have reconstructive surgery to create a new way for urine to leave the body.

Patients with bladder cancers should speak with their doctor about which surgery treatment option is best for them.

Chemotherapy or “chemo” uses medication to destroy cancer cells by stopping growth. Chemo for bladder cancer may be given in one of two ways and is dependent on a patient’s specific circumstances:

  • Intravesical chemotherapy – A treatment where a chemotherapy drug is injected directly into the patient’s bladder through a catheter. This option may be recommended for some early stage bladder cancers.
  • Systemic chemotherapy – A treatment where a chemotherapy drug is given in pill form or injected into a vein (IV) or muscle so that it can enter the bloodstream and travel through the body to destroy bladder cancer cells. Systemic chemotherapy may be used at various times during the treatment process including prior to surgery (neoadjuvant therapy), after surgery or radiation therapy (adjuvant therapy), at the same time as radiation therapy, or as the main treatment option.

At Northside's infusion centers, chemotherapy is provided on an outpatient basis by registered nurses who are certified in chemotherapy administration.

Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy. Radiation therapy, also called radiation oncology, uses high-energy X-rays to damage or kill cancer cells.

Radiation therapy may be recommended as a treatment option for bladder cancer for certain patients depending on their specific cancer diagnosis. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is the type or radiation therapy most often used to treat bladder cancer and delivers radiation from a source outside of the body to cancer cells inside the body.

Learn more about radiation therapy and our Radiation Oncology Program.

Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, uses the body’s own immune system to treat bladder cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a lab to help the immune system work harder or in a more targeted way to fight cancer. This helps a patient’s body get rid of cancer cells.

In the treatment of bladder cancer, two main types of immunotherapy may be used including immune checkpoint inhibitors (for advanced cancers) and Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), which is a vaccine used to protect against tuberculosis and is administered through a catheter directly into the bladder (intravesical therapy).

Questions to ask your doctor about immunotherapy.

Learn more about our Immunotherapy Program

Clinical trials are studies that involve people and are a critical part of cancer research. These studies test new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose or treat cancer. If a patient takes part in cancer clinical trials, they have an opportunity to contribute to scientists’ knowledge about cancer and to help in the development of improved cancer treatments, including those for bladder cancer. They also receive state-of-the-art care from cancer experts.

Learn more about clinical trials at Northside Hospital

Learn more about Cancer Treatment Options available at NHCI

Bladder Cancer Support & Survivorship

Bladder cancer treatment and recovery can be overwhelming, which is why we have oncology nurse navigators to guide you every step of your cancer journey. Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s nurse navigators are registered nurses with extensive knowledge and training in oncology, available to help guide patients after bladder cancer diagnoses and through treatment, educating and supporting cancer patients to make informed decisions. The cancer patient navigation team works with radiologists, pathologists, urologists, oncologists and other urologic cancer specialists to coordinate treatment.

Support provided by oncology nurse navigators includes:

  • Clinical information and education on bladder cancers.
  • Answering questions about diagnosis, treatments and any side effects experienced.
  • Starting and facilitating communication between the patient and their care team.
  • Access to emotional and psychological support, including referrals to the right counseling services and support groups.
  • Monitoring each patient’s health and overall cancer treatment progress.

To learn more about oncology patient navigation or to speak with an oncology nurse navigator, please call 404-300-2800 or email nurse.navigator@northside.com.

Ongoing support is crucial when facing bladder cancer and afterward. Northside Hospital Cancer Institute provides a full range of support and survivorship programs and services to address the unique needs of each cancer patient.