Bladder cancer

Expertise, advanced treatments and support to help you defeat cancer

At UW Health, our comprehensive team of bladder cancer oncologists and surgeons will work with you to review all options and customize a treatment plan that meets your needs and goals.
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Overview

Advanced care

Bladder cancer is the sixth-most common type of cancer in the U.S. Most people who get it are age 70 or older.

At UW Health, we bring together a team of experts to offer the latest treatments for bladder cancer. And our researchers continuously investigate better ways to prevent and treat bladder cancer.

Our commitment to providing the best possible care for patients and advancing the science of medicine sets us apart.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Finding bladder cancer early

Early detection makes bladder cancer easier to treat. Knowing if you’re at risk and what to watch for can help you catch the disease early on.

Risk factors

Several factors may increase your risk of bladder cancer. If you have symptoms, it’s important to bring them to your doctor’s attention.

Risk factors of bladder cancer include:

Bladder cancer is much more common in smokers than nonsmokers.

If you’ve had bladder cancer once, you’re at increased risk of getting it again. You also might have a slightly higher risk of the disease if others in your family have had it.

Caucasians have twice the risk of African Americans.

Males are far more likely to get bladder cancer than females.

Certain industrial chemicals have been linked to bladder cancer. If you work in the dye, paint, leather, rubber or textile industries, you have an increased risk.

Symptoms

Symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • Blood in your urine

  • Back or abdominal pain

  • Frequent urination in small amounts

  • Having the urge to urinate without results

  • Loss of appetite and weight

  • Painful urination 

Diagnostic tests

We use several tests to find bladder cancer. If you’re at high risk based on risk factors or symptoms, you should talk with your doctor about getting one or more of these tests regularly.

For this test, we guide a thin tube with a camera into your bladder through your urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder out of your body). This allows us to view suspicious areas and collect tissue as needed.

We use CT scans, ultrasounds and special types of X-ray to get images of your urinary tract.

We use this surgical procedure to diagnose and treat bladder cancer.

These tests allow us to look for signs of cancer in a sample of your urine.

Treatments and research

Treatments focused on your well-being and quality of life

We tailor your treatment specifically to you. It may include surgery or a combination of surgery and other treatments. 

Treatments we offer

In some cases, we may need to remove your bladder. Urinary tract reconstruction is done at the same time to allow you to still eliminate your urine. Types of reconstruction we offer include:

  • Neobladder: Uses a portion of your small intestine (ileum) to make a new bladder. This allows for “normal” urination.

  • Ileal conduit (urostomy): Uses a portion of your small intestine to create a pipe. The surgeon  connects the kidney tubes (ureters) to a small piece of small intestine (ileum).  The end is brought out through the abdomen and secured to the skin as a stoma. Urine drains into a bag that you wear outside of your body.

  • Continent cutaneous pouch (Indiana pouch): Uses part of your intestine (colon and ileum) to create an internal pouch..  The end is brought out through the abdomen and secured to the skin as a stoma. You drain the pouch by intermittently passing a catheter when the internal pouch fills up with urine.  You do not have to wear a bag outside your body.

These are complex urinary tract reconstructions and your surgeon will spend a great deal of time with you explaining these and figuring out what might work best for you.

Cystectomy is surgery to remove your bladder. At UW Health, we use robotic surgery for this procedure when appropriate. It’s less invasive than open surgery, uses smaller incisions and causes less blood loss and pain. Surgeons can often spare nerve bundles that help men have erections. They may also be able to preserve a woman’s vagina, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes when appropriate.

Cysview blue light cystoscopy is a procedure that makes it easier to see cancer in your bladder. It involves putting a special solution into your bladder. Doctors use a cystoscope to view your bladder in white and blue light. Tumor cells stand out during this procedure. It helps doctors find even very small tumors.

Cancer and cancer treatments may affect your ability to have a child. If you hope to have children in the future, we work with Generations Fertility Care.

Generations Fertility Care

Radiation is a type of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors

It focuses on a certain area of your body. We use radiation that conforms to your tumor to limit exposure to nearby organs.

Surgery is the main treatment for many bladder cancers. In some cases, we combine radiation with chemotherapy as your first treatment, followed by surgery if needed. If surgery isn’t a good option for you because of other health concerns, we use chemotherapy and radiation.

UW Health physicians and researchers are actively engaged in bladder cancer research. We help people live as well as possible for as long as possible.

Specific areas we focus on include:

  • Finding markers of cancer recurrence or progression

  • Understanding the early events in cancer formation

  • Using medication to keep bladder cancer from progressing or returning

Learn more about our research

Systemic treatments

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy remains one of the most effective treatments for bladder cancer. We often give chemotherapy before surgery if your cancer has a high risk of spreading to other areas of your body. It’s often the first treatment we use after your diagnosis if we know your cancer has spread.

In addition, chemotherapy is a very effective treatment of metastatic bladder cancer.

Immunotherapy is an effective treatment for bladder cancer. It uses your own immune system to attack cancer cells.

Immunotherapy using immune checkpoint inhibitors is a novel treatment approach for bladder cancer. These treatments are effective and have revolutionized the systemic treatment of bladder cancer since 2017. Immunotherapy uses your own immune system to attack cancer cells.

These agents use specific antibodies to direct the chemotherapy molecules to the cancer cells. A higher concentration of drug molecules in the cancer cells makes this treatment more effective and reduces the treatment-related side effects.

These novel treatments (such as FGFR inhibitors) are effective for certain types of bladder cancer harboring specific gene mutations. Our team will review the importance of molecular analysis of the tumor specimen and exploring any potential targeted therapy for each individual with bladder cancer (precision medicine).

View clinical trials available at UW Health

Find a clinical trial

Meet our team

The experts on your side

Our team of doctors includes urologists, radiologists, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists. Health psychologists, advanced practice providers, nurses, nutritionists, social workers and others may also have roles in your care. They work together through the UW Carbone Cancer Center, Wisconsin’s only comprehensive cancer center.

Locations

Top-rated cancer care

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  • UW Carbone Cancer Center
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • Closed now
    • The University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center is a pioneer in cancer research and quality patient care. It is the only comprehensive cancer center in Wisconsin, as designated by the National Cancer Institute.

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  • UW Carbone Cancer Clinic - 1 S. Park
    • 1 S. Park St. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 287-2552
    • Closed now
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  • SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center
    • 3535 N Bell School Road / Rockford, IL
    • Open now
    • Patients here have convenient local access to UW Health cancer specialists in areas such as breast cancer, head-and-neck cancer, endocrine cancer, and thoracic surgical and abdominal surgical oncology.

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  • Beloit Cancer Center
    • 1670 Lee Lane / Beloit, WI
    • Open now
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  • UW Health Johnson Creek
    UW Health Johnson Creek
    UW Cancer Center Johnson Creek
    • 250 Doctors Ct. / Johnson Creek, WI
    • (920) 699-3500
    • Closed now
    • UW Cancer Center Johnson Creek offers the people of southeastern Wisconsin local access to leading-edge research and treatments offered by the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center in Madison.

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  • UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care
    • N16 W24131 Riverwood Drive / Waukesha, WI
    • Open now
    • Partnered with the UW Carbone Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, UW Health Cancer Center at ProHealth Care offers world-class cancer care in a comforting setting close to home.

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