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Understanding Bladder Cancer

Urinary tract showing kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra, and position of uterus and prostate.The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. It makes, stores, and gets rid of liquid waste called urine. The two kidneys filter blood to collect waste and make urine. The ureters are small tubes that carry urine from each kidney to the bladder. The bladder is where urine is stored before it leaves the body. The urethra is the tube urine goes through to leave the body. 

Bladder cancer means that certain cells in the bladder have changed in ways that aren't normal.

When bladder cancer forms

Cancer is a disease that causes cells to change and multiply out of control. The multiplying cells may form a lump of tissue (tumor). With time, the cancer cells destroy healthy tissue. They may spread to other parts of the body. Why some cells become cancerous is not always clear. But bladder cancer is strongly linked to cigarette smoking. The longer a person smokes and the more a person smokes, the greater that person’s chances of developing bladder cancer.

Types of cancer that may form

Bladder cancer may grow in different ways:

  • Papillary tumors stick out from the bladder lining on a stalk. They tend to grow into the bladder cavity, away from the bladder wall, instead of deeper into the layers of the bladder wall.

  • Flat tumors do not stick out from the bladder lining. These tumors are much more likely than papillary tumors to grow deeper into the layers of the bladder wall.

  • Carcinoma in situ (CIS) is a cancerous patch of cells that is only in the inner layer of the bladder lining and has not spread to deeper tissue. The patch may look almost normal or may look inflamed.

Cross section through bladder wall showing lining, submocosa, muscle, fat, and three types of cancer: papillary tumors, sessile tumors, and carcinoma in situ.Each type of tumor can be present in one or more areas of the bladder, and more than one type can be present at the same time.


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