If doctors think you or someone you care about could have bladder cancer, you probably have lots of questions and wonder what this means for the future. Our leading Northern Beaches urologists explain bladder cancer and the expert diagnostic and treatment options available at Northern Beaches Hospital.

What is bladder cancer?

The bladder is a hollow organ that stores and releases urine. In cancer of the bladder, cells in the bladder’s inner lining grow and divide abnormally. Bladder cancer can sometimes spread into the muscle wall of the bladder or to surrounding lymph nodes and organs.

Types of bladder cancer include:

  • urothelial carcinoma – this is the most common type of bladder cancer and starts in the bladder’s innermost layer
  • squamous cell carcinoma – which starts in specific cells in the lining of the bladder
  • adenocarcinoma – this rare form of bladder cancer starts in mucous-producing cells within the bladder and is more likely to spread.

Bladder cancer is more common in people aged 60 and over, although it can affect people of any age.​​​​​

Bladder cancer causes

Experts do not yet fully understand what causes bladder cancer. However, certain things can make it more likely that you will develop this condition. Bladder cancer risk factors include:

  • Smoking – the chemicals in cigarettes can cause bladder cancer, making people who smoke up to three times more likely than non-smokers to develop it.
  • Age – your bladder cancer risk increases as you get older.
  • Gender – men are about three times more likely than women to develop bladder cancer.
  • Exposure to chemicals – prolonged exposure to chemicals such as certain dyes, aromatic amines and benzene products may increase the risk.
  • Family history – you may be at higher risk if a close relative (a parent, sibling, or child) has had bladder cancer.
  • Chronic bladder infections – people who have had frequent bladder infection may be at higher risk.
  • Previous cancer treatments – some types of radiation therapy and chemotherapy can increase your risk.
  • Genetics – some genetic mutations and inherited conditions can make you more vulnerable to bladder cancer.

While these factors can contribute to the risk, it's important to note that anyone can develop bladder cancer. Also, having these risk factors does not necessarily mean you will develop bladder cancer. Talk to your GP if you have any concerns about your risk factors and how to manage them.​​​​

Symptoms of bladder cancer

Early-stage bladder cancer may not cause any symptoms. However, as the cancer progresses, you may experience:

  • blood in your urine
  • a need to urinate more often
  • pain or burning when you urinate
  • difficulty emptying your bladder
  • pain in your stomach, pelvis or back
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fatigue.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, book an appointment with your GP.

Bladder cancer diagnosis and testing

If your doctor thinks you may have bladder cancer, they will ask you some questions about your symptoms. They will also conduct some tests to help with the diagnosis. Tests for bladder cancer include:

  • internal examination – your doctor may feel inside your rectum or vagina with their finger to check for anything unusual.
  • urine tests – to check for blood, infection or cancer cells in your urine.
  • blood tests – to assess your general health.
  • ultrasound – an ultrasound scan can help doctors see your bladder and check for signs of cancer.
  • other imaging tests – you may need other scans (such as an MRI, CT or bone scan) to help with diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • cystoscopy – this involves passing a thin tube with a small camera on the end into your bladder to see inside it.
  • biopsy – during the cystoscopy, your doctor might take a small sample of tissue which can be checked for signs of cancer.

Bladder cancer treatment options

Treatment for bladder cancer will depend on various things, including the cancer stage, how aggressive it is, your overall health, and your preferences. Treatments for bladder cancer may include the following options.


In some cases, a urologist can perform a procedure to remove any tumours from inside the bladder. If the cancer is more advanced, you may need surgery to remove all (or part of) the bladder.


This involves tapping into your own immune system to treat the cancer. Immunotherapy is delivered directly into your bladder via a thin tube (catheter).


This involves giving you medications to destroy cancer cells. These medications might be flushed into your bladder or given through a drip.


This involves using targeted radiation beams to destroy cancer cells.

Bladder cancer treatment Northern Beaches Hospital

Getting a bladder cancer diagnosis can understandably be upsetting, but expert diagnosis and care can enhance your chances of a good outcome. If you have any concerns about your bladder health or urinary function, see your GP.

At Northern Beaches Hospital, our team of Sydney bladder cancer specialists and doctors provide expert diagnosis and treatment. You can use our specialist and doctor search to find leading local urologists and ask your GP for a referral to one of them.

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