Early Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Urinate Before You Feel the Need

The most common form of bladder cancer starts in the cells lining the inside of the bladder. In the early stages, the cancer remains confined to the bladder lining or the layer just beneath it. About half of bladder cancer cases show up in these early stages.

Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Unlike a lot of other cancers, signs of bladder cancer often occur early on in the disease. This leads to a timely diagnosis in many cases. Early signs and symptoms of bladder cancer may include:

  • Blood in the urine, which causes it to look orange, pink or rusty

  • Frequent need to urinate

  • Pain or burning with urination

  •  Trouble urinating

  • Urgent need to urinate

  • Weak urine stream

It’s important to know these symptoms are also common with other conditions, such as urinary tract infections and benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate). Seeing your doctor for a physical exam and medical tests is the only way to know the cause of your symptoms for sure. Regardless of the cause, the earlier you seek a diagnosis, the more likely treatment is to be successful.

Diagnosing Bladder Cancer

A diagnosis of bladder cancer usually happens early in the disease because bladder cancer symptoms are noticeable. Your doctor will start with a medical history and physical exam. Because symptoms of bladder cancer overlap with other conditions, you will need urine tests. Testing your urine can help rule out other causes, such as infection. Your doctor may also order the following exams:

  • Additional urine testing to look for tumor markers

  • Cystoscopy, which involves inserting a thin, fiber-optic tube into your urethra and advance it gently into the bladder. This lets your doctor look at the lining of the bladder and take a biopsy if necessary. Sometimes, doctors use a light-activated drug to help identify cancerous cells. This is fluorescence cystoscopy, or blue light cystoscopy.

  • Imaging exams including special X-rays of the urinary tract, CT scan, and MRI. These exams help your doctor determine whether cancer has spread and how far.

Once your doctor has a complete diagnosis, including any spread of the cancer, you can begin to plan treatment. Work with your doctor to come up with the best approach for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 14
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