By Stephen Wilson
Read time: 4 minutes
I had never heard of bladder cancer before I was diagnosed with it. Which is surprising, considering more than 12 thousand Canadians will be diagnosed with bladder cancer this year alone. And 80 thousand are living with the disease right now.
Not all bladder cancers are the same (although, they all have big names). The most common (about 90% of cases) is called “urothelial carcinoma,” or UCC. It begins in the urothelial cells, specialized cells that line the bladder, ureters and urethra, which connect to form a barrier called the epithelium. This type of bladder cancer is sometimes called “transitional cell carcinoma” or TCC.
A much less common form of bladder cancer (about 4% of cases) is called “squamous cell carcinoma.” Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that develop in the bladder in response to irritation or inflammation. Over time, these cells can become cancerous.
Another less common bladder cancer is “adenocarcinoma” (about 2% of bladder cancer cases). This cancer starts in the glands that produce mucus. Since the glands that produce mucus are in many organs in our body, adenocarcinoma can also occur in the breast, colon, lung, pancreas and prostate.
There are a couple of even rarer types of bladder cancer: sarcoma of the bladder and small cell bladder cancer. They are so uncommon, that I won’t go into any detail about them here.
And, there’s more
In addition to the cell types of bladder cancer we talked about above, there are other ways to describe bladder cancer. They are related to the stage and grade of cancer.
The first is “noninvasive” bladder cancer. If the name sounds not-so-threatening, you’d be right. This category of cancer includes noninvasive papillary (the “papillae” are finger-like projections that can be seen under a microscope) carcinoma and can be easily removed. The other noninvasive bladder cancer is called “carcinoma in situ” (or CIS). “In situ” means “in its original place.” This cancer is found only on or near the surface of the bladder. Both noninvasive cancers are called “stage 0.”
The next way to describe bladder cancer is “non-muscle invasive.” As the name implies, this cancer has not grown into the muscle that surrounds the bladder. But, it has grown into the “lamina propria,” a thin layer under the inner surface of the bladder. It is classified as “stage 1.” If you hear non-muscle invasive described as “superficial cancer,” don’t be misled. It is still a serious condition. Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer can sometimes eventually spread into the bladder muscle or other parts of the body.
Finally, there is “muscle-invasive” bladder cancer. As its name implies, the cancer has grown into the muscle wall of the bladder (stage 2), or sometimes into the fatty layers (stage 3) surrounding the bladder. “Stage 4” describes cancer that has spread to surrounding organs, such as the uterus and vagina in women, or the prostate in men. This is called “locally advanced disease.” It is called “metastatic disease” if it has spread further in the body.
As a final note, remember that the process of grading and staging cancer sometimes takes time. Initial diagnosis, including biopsies, scans and ultrasounds, may show one type and grade of cancer. Pathology done on surgically removed tissue is more accurate and may show another type or grade.
Always keep test results and pathology reports. Discuss them with your medical team to fully understand your type of bladder cancer and the possible treatments.
It can all be more than a bit overwhelming. If you are in need of support during your bladder cancer journey, please visit our online forum here.
You might also consider connecting with a peer support volunteer who can share their own experiences with you. As well, a number of our online support groups across Canada are meeting virtually and would welcome you to join them. You can connect to both resources on the “Get Help” section of our website here.
Sources: Percentages and the majority of information on stages and grades was sourced from cancer.net/cancer-types/bladder-cancer. Other sources included the Patient Guidebook series available free from Bladder Cancer Canada.
Married with four children, Stephen Wilson lives in St. Thomas, Ontario. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2013 and had radical cystectomy/prostatectomy and neobladder construction. The cancer was determined to be Stage 4 and Stephen was given a prognosis for 15% five-year survival. He decided to research everything that might contribute to the return or spread of the cancer. He quit smoking, went vegan, exercised daily and eliminated stress by retiring early. Six years later, he heard the great proclamation from his oncologist: “You’re cured. Don’t come back!” The son of journalists, writing is in his blood. He spent 30 years as a broadcast journalist, corporate communicator and marketing writer.
If you are in need of support during your bladder cancer journey, please visit our online forum here.
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Disclaimer: The Bladder Cancer Canada blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. The content on this blog shares the personal views of the writer and is for information only. Always consult your physician and do not rely on the information on this page when making decisions about your health.