What Is Superficial Bladder Cancer?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2019
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Superficial bladder cancer is a malignancy that has not breached the bladder wall. Remaining within the inner bladder, superficial bladder cancer is considered a stage one malignancy. Possessing a high recurrence rate, bladder cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to successfully treat; however, if it is diagnosed early, one’s chance for recurrence is decreased. Surgery to remove the malignancy is an essential component of treatment for superficial bladder cancer. Subsequent anti-cancer therapies, including radiation and chemo, may also be administered to eliminate any remaining malignancy.

A variety of diagnostic tests may be performed to confirm a diagnosis of superficial bladder cancer. Initial urinalysis may identify cancerous cells prompting imaging tests, including ultrasound and a computerized tomography (CT) scan, to assess the urinary tract, especially the urinary bladder. A biopsy of the tumor is generally taken for laboratory testing to discount or confirm it as malignant. Additional imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are valuable for determining the invasiveness, or staging, of the tumor.

All tumors are initiated by genetic cell mutation. What triggers that cellular mutation is often unknown. When cells reproduce continuously and there is no cellular death, the multitude of cells collect to form a growth, or tumor. Superficial bladder cancer originates with a mutation in the organ’s transitional cells.


There is no single, known cause for the development of bladder cancer. Regular exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, including aromatic amines, as may occur with occupations such as painting and textiles, seem to increase one’s risk for bladder cancer. Individuals who smoke and those with a history of bladder issues, including recurrent infection and stones, are also considered more likely to develop bladder cancer.

Signs and symptoms of superficial bladder cancer may be subtle at first, but quickly progress. Individuals experience frequent, painful urination that may or may not be accompanied by abdominal discomfort. Recurrent urinary tract infection is another sign of possible malignancy within the bladder. It is not uncommon for some people with superficial bladder cancer to pass blood when urinating. Depending on the concentration of blood, the color of one’s urine may not change or it may adopt a deep yellow or brown hue.

Surgery to remove the malignancy is the first step in treating bladder cancer. Since the tumor has not become invasive to surrounding tissues, it may be removed in its entirety without complication. Subsequent treatment for superficial bladder cancer is often individualized and dependent on the overall health of the individual. Radiation and chemotherapy are generally used to ensure the eradication of all remaining cancerous cells. Both therapies can produce side effects depending on the dose and administration route, including decreased appetite, nausea, and fatigue.


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