What is the clinical course of bladder cancer?

Updated: Feb 23, 2021
  • Author: Kara N Babaian, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Answer

The clinical course of bladder cancer is marked by a broad spectrum of aggressiveness and risk. Low-grade, superficial bladder cancers have minimal risk of progression to death; however, high-grade non–muscle-invasive cancers frequently progress and muscle-invasive cancers are often lethal (see Prognosis).

The classic presentation of bladder cancer is painless gross hematuria, which is seen in approximately 80-90% of patients. Physical examination results are often unremarkable (see Presentation). Cystoscopy, cytology, and biopsy when necessary are the principal diagnostic tests (see Workup).

Upon presentation, 55-60% of patients have low-grade, noninvasive disease, which is usually treated conservatively with transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) and periodic cystoscopy. Intravesical agents may also be given selectively to decrease the frequency of recurrences. The remaining patients have high-grade disease, of which 50% is muscle invasive and is typically treated with radical cystectomy or with trimodality therapy (ie, TURBT followed by concurrent radiation therapy and systemic chemotherapy; see Treatment).

Carcinoma in situ (CIS) is managed by TURBT and instillation of chemotherapeutic or immunotherapeutic agents—most commonly, immunotherapy with bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG)—into the bladder via catheter. These intravesical treatments are not effective patients in whom cancer has invaded the bladder wall muscle; those cases require cystectomy or a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy (see Treatment).

Bladder cancer has the highest recurrence rate of any malignancy. Although most patients with bladder cancer can be treated with organ-sparing therapy, most experience either recurrence or progression, creating a great need for accurate and diligent surveillance (see Treatment).


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