Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Bladder cancer

What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer occurs when there are abnormal, cancerous cells growing in the bladder.

Bladder cancer affects men three to four times more often than women, and it occurs in Caucasians one-and-a-half times as often as in African Americans. The average age at time of diagnosis is 68.

The bladder is a triangle-shaped, hollow organ located in the lower abdomen. It is held in place by ligaments that are attached to other organs and the pelvic bones. The bladder’s walls relax and expand to store urine, and contract and flatten to empty urine through the urethra. The typical healthy adult bladder can store up to two cups of urine for two to five hours.

What are the different types of bladder cancer?

There are several types of bladder cancers, including the following:

  • Transitional cell (urothelial) carcinoma – cancer that begins in the cells lining the bladder. Transitional cells also line the other parts of the urinary tract including the kidneys, ureters and urethra. Transitional cell carcinoma is the most common kind of bladder cancer, occurring in about 90 percent of cases.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – cancer that begins in squamous cells — thin, flat cells found in the tissue that form the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts. About 6 percent to 8 percent of bladder cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Adenocarcinoma – cancer that begins in the cells of glandular structures lining certain organs in the body and then spreads to the bladder. Common primary sites for adenocarcinomas include the lung, pancreas, breast, prostate, stomach, liver and colon. Adenocarcinomas account for only about 2 percent of bladder cancers.