Any cancer is difficult on a person who is diagnosed and hard for their family to cope with. All parties involved go through painful experiences and find themselves in the midst of trying to learn as much information as possible about the cancer, and the best way to care and manage the disease for themselves or a loved one.
Bladder cancer is an abnormal growth generally affecting older adults, however, it can happen at any age and most often begins in the cell lining of the bladder — a balloon shaped, hollow organ in the pelvic region with the purpose of storing urine. Men are three times higher at risk than women of getting the illness, with both often experiencing incontinence.
Bladder cancer and symptoms that come with the disease can be painful for those inflicted by it, and be difficult on family members caring for their loved ones. Fortunately, most cases are diagnosed when highly treatable in the early stages. However, even when diagnosed early, it is likely the cancer will reoccur. For this reason, patients of the disease frequently undergo follow-up testing for years after successful treatment to check for the recurrence of the cancer.
Doctors rate bladder cancer in stages from zero to five, with zero being the best rating. Learning the signs and seeking medical attention from your doctor early is best for successful treatment.
- Stage 0 — cancer has not spread past the bladder's lining.
- Stage 1 — cancer has spread past the bladder's lining, but not reached the bladder's muscle layer.
- Stage 2 — cancer has spread into the bladder's layer of muscle.
- Stage 3 — cancer has spread into the bladder's surrounding tissue.
- Stage 4 — cancer has spread beyond the bladder into neighboring areas within the body.
The Symptoms of Bladder Cancer
Symptoms are signs, or alerts, that there may be an issue with a person's health. Symptoms vary person to person, and each may not experience the same symptoms as another inflicted with the disease. Blood in the urine, incontinence (urine leakage) and fatigue are just a few signs you or a loved one may have the disease. There are symptoms that are commonly associated with the illness (listed below.) However, less common symptoms can be present as well — weight loss, swelling of the legs, bone pain, rectal/anal/pelvic area pain. As with any illness, it also possible for a person to be unaware they may have bladder cancer and experience no symptoms. To know for sure, seek medical advice from your doctor.
Pain felt anywhere between the chest and groin is abdominal pain — often referred to as the belly or stomach area. The types of pains can vary and include:
- Generalized pain — felt in more than half of the stomach area.
- Cramp-like pain — less serious and most likely due to bloating and gas.
- Localized pain — occurs in a specific area of the belly.
- Colicky pain — can be severe discomfort, comes in waves and usually starting and ending suddenly. Commonly associated with gallstones and kidney stones.
Blood in the Urine
Hematuria — blood present in the urine — is the most common symptom. Blood in the urine can be microscopic not always visible to the eye and would require tests — cystoscopy, CT Scan, MRI, ultrasound, urine culture, IVP and urine cytology — to detect if any is present. The two terms used to describe the level of hematuria are:
- Gross — visible to the eye
- Microscopic — visible only through testing
If you think your or a loved one may have blood present in the urine, see a doctor for examination to rule the disease out.
Bone Pain or Tenderness
One of the less common symptoms, bone pain or tenderness occurs when the cancer has spread into the bone.
Incontinence (Urine Leakage)
Urinary leakage — incontinence — is a common normality once a person gets up in age. However, incontinence can be a side effect and indication you or someone you know has bladder cancer.
Urinary incontinence happens when the bladder experiences any involuntary or accidental loss of urine. Bowel or fecal incontinence happens when any involuntary or accidental bowel movement, feces or wind exits the bowel.
What is bladder cancer fatigue? Often confused with being tired, fatigue is different in that it is a lack of energy rather than an expected tiredness from doing an activity. It happens suddenly and is not induced by activity, and sleep does not relieve it. Fatigue can be short term lasting less than a month, or long term lasting one to six months or longer. Being fatigued can interfere with your life preventing you from your daily routine and enjoying the things in life you like to do. Simple things in life, such as going to the bathroom can be affected and the associated symptom of incontinence can be difficult to manage.
Fatigue — one of the most common side effects related to cancer — is not predictable by the stage of the disease, type of tumor or treatment.
The medical term for pain during urination or difficult urination is Dysuria. The pain can be a discomforting annoyance or become more severe. Some people who experience painful urination have complained of pain in the back, abdomen and flank. Burning and irritation sensations in the urethra — tube carrying urine from the body — have also been reported. It is also common for a person to feel and urgency to urinate, but when they go to the bathroom, a small amount of urine is released.
Urinary frequency is defined as feeling the need to urinate — once every one or two hours — more frequently than your normal urination routine. This can include passing more urine than normal or small amounts. Associated with incontinence, this can occur day or night, but may only occur during nighttime hours — known as nocturia — and can affect sleep, a person's work and overall health and general well-being. Often those inflicted with urinary frequency find adult diapers are a valuable aid in preventing embarrassing accidents.
Urinary urgency is a compelling or sudden urge to urinate. Often, it may be associated with polyuria, urinary incontinence, interstitial cystitis and nocturia, though may not be. Urinary urgency tends to increase and be associated with age, and when it is uncontrollable, it can cause urge incontinence. As with urinary frequency, those who experience urinary urgency may find it difficult to make it to a bathroom in a timely manner causing leakage and find adult diapers omit embarrassing conditions.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America - Important information — What is bladder cancer?
Mayo Clinic — What are the symptoms?
MedicineNet — Cancer of the urinary bladder facts.
WebMD — An overview of the disease.
Healthline — Highlights and risk factors.
Cancer.Net — Urinary incontinence and causes explained.
Cancer.org — Associate lifestyle changes after being diagnosed.
NCBI — Dysuria, Frequency, and Urgency
Sarah JohnsonAging in Place Expert
Sarah Johnson is an Aging in Place Expert with extensive experience helping seniors remain independent and comfortable in their homes. She has specialized knowledge of how to help elderly individuals stay healthy, safe, and happy as they age. Sarah is passionate about providing quality care for aging adults, allowing them to remain in their homes and enjoy the highest quality of life.