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Staging of Bladder Cancer

Once cancer has been diagnosed, the next step is to choose the best way to treat it. To help do this, your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out how deep the cancer has grown and whether it has spread. (This is called the cancer stage.)

Stage: How much the cancer has grown and spread

As cancer cells multiply, the tumor grows. Bladder cancer begins in the inner lining of the bladder and often doesn’t grow beyond that layer. As the tumor gets larger, it may grow into deeper layers of the bladder. It may also spread to nearby organs, such as the prostate in men or the uterus in women. Cells can break off from the main tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymph nodes. Blood or lymph then carries the cells to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, or lungs, where a new tumor may form (metastasis.) The stage of cancer is based on where the cancer is and how much it has grown and spread. The stage is found by looking inside the bladder during cystoscopy and using tests that show images of the bladder, the areas around it, and parts of the body that the cancer may spread to. The staging system described below is a simplified one. Your healthcare provider will most likely use a similar, but more detailed, system.

Cross section of bladder wall showing cancer at superficial stage.
At the superficial stage (noninvasive), the tumor is only in the bladder lining and submucosal layer of the bladder.
Cross section of bladder wall showing cancer at invasive stage.
At the invasive stage, the tumor has begun to grow into the muscle or fat layers of the wall of the bladder.
Cross section of bladder wall showing cancer at metastatic stage.
At the metastatic stage, cancer cells from the main tumor have spread beyond the bladder to other parts of the body.

Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2018
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