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Understanding Bladder Cancer

The urinary system makes, stores and gets rid of urine. The bladder is where urine is stored before it leaves the body. Bladder cancer means that certain cells in the urinary tract have changed in ways that aren’t normal.

Cutaway view of urinary tract

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 cells become cancerous is not 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.

Cutaway view of urinary tract

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.

  • Sessile (flat) tumors do not stick out from the bladder lining. Sessile 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 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.

Each type of tumor can be present in 1 or more areas of the bladder, and more than 1 type can be present at the same time.


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