Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is the seventh most common cancer in the UK, with more than 10,000 people in the UK diagnosed each year.

It is the fourth most common cancer for men and the thirteenth most common for women. It takes a long time to develop and is most prevalent in older people.

The bladder is located in the lower part of the abdomen (the pelvis). It is connected to your kidneys and together, they filter waste out of the blood and make urine which the bladder collects and stores until it is evacuated.  The bladder is a thick-walled structure, consisting of a thick muscle covering and a relatively thin inner layer which consists of several layers of cells. Most bladder cancers develop on this inner layer of the bladder, although some can grow into the deeper bladder layers. How far the cancer has spread into these layers will influence its severity and how it is treated.

Here is a short video from Cancer Research UK, explaining about what will happen if a patient has a cystoscopy: a common test to look inside the bladder.

Bladder Cancer Videos

Who’s at risk?

Most people with bladder cancer are between 50 and 80 years old.

It is rare in people under 40 years old.
It is more common in men than women.
Your ethnicity also influences your risk.
Black and Asian people have a lower risk than white people.

The two biggest risk factors for bladder cancer are

  • Smoking. The risk to smokers is up to six times that of a non smoker. A study published in December 2011 estimated that in the UK in 2010, 38% of bladder cancer cases in men and 34% in women were caused by smoking
  • There is an increased risk if you had exposure to chemicals (arylamines) in the rubber and plastics industry 20 years ago. Also if you are or have been exposed to chemicals (polycyclic hydrocarbons) in industries that handle carbon or crude oil, or substances made from them.  You may also come into contact with these in any industry involving combustion, such as smelting.

Other risk factors include

  • Treatment with radiotherapy for cancers of the pelvic area can increase your risk of bladder cancer. And treatment with the chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide and cisplatin also increases the risk
  • Benign prostate disease leads to an increase in the likelihood of bladder cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes carries a 40% increase in bladder cancer


The most common and easily recognisable symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine.

This bleeding is not usually painful. It’s important to be aware that the blood may not be there all the time; it can come and go. If somebody ever mentions to you that they have seen blood in their urine, even if it is no longer present, it’s important to encourage them to see a doctor. 

Sometimes the amounts of blood are so small that they can’t be seen. However, even if it can’t be seen, the presence of blood can be picked up in a urine test.

Other symptoms

There can be other symptoms of bladder cancer. These are

  • Needing to pass urine very often
  • Needing to pass urine very suddenly
  • Pain when passing urine

Most of the symptoms of bladder cancer are similar to those caused by a urinary infection, and an infection is much more likely to be the cause of these symptoms, but while it’s positive to reassure people about this, it’s also important that they are advised to make an appointment with a doctor about changes straight away.


Encourage people to get to know their normal urinary habits so that they can recognise any changes: particularly an increase in the frequency of urination

  • The most effective method of reducing the risk of bladder cancer is to give up smoking. You’ll find plenty of support for free on the NHS Smokefree website
  • Eating a healthy diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, wholegrain foods and fish. Eating less saturated fat and no more than 80g a day of red and processed meat, such as bacon and ham
  • Do not drink more than the recommended daily alcohol limits of 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women
  • Take regular exercise and try to maintain a healthy weight