What is Metastatic Bladder Cancer?

Treatment options for metastatic bladder cancer may include surgery.
The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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Metastatic bladder cancer is bladder cancer which has spread to other parts of the body. The prognosis for patients with bladder cancer which has metastasized can be grim, depending on where additional tumors have developed and how quickly medical intervention is offered to treat the cancer. As with all cancers, the earlier the condition is recognized and treated, the better the outcome will be for the patient. Patients are also advised to seek a second opinion during cancer treatment, as research in this field moves fast, and a different doctor may have additional information or a different treatment approach which offers more hope.

This type of bladder cancer starts with a tumor in the bladder which spreads via the bloodstream and lymphatic system through the body, causing tumors to develop in other parts of the body. When metastatic bladder cancer causes something like a tumor in the liver, that tumor is treated as bladder cancer and referred to as bladder cancer, because it contains cells from the original bladder cancer. These tumors may also be referred to as “secondary,” referencing the fact that they are not found at the primary site of the cancer.

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Doctors diagnose metastatic bladder cancer with the assistance of biopsy and medical imaging studies. At the time of diagnosis, an estimated five percent of bladder cancer cases are metastatic. Depending on where the cancer has spread to, there are several treatment options. In most cases, patients are offered chemotherapy and radiation with the goal of shrinking the tumors. Surgery to remove the tumors, including a cystectomy in which the bladder is removed, is another treatment option.

In some cases, metastatic bladder cancer can be managed very effectively, with the tumors responding to aggressive treatment by shrinking. In other instances, the cancer may continue to spread, or the tumors may fail to shrink. In cases where surgery is not an option in the opinion of the surgeon, metastatic bladder cancer can cause death within a year.

If the spread of the cancer is severe, the doctor may recommend palliative care only, after discussing the situation with the patient. Palliative care focuses on keeping the patient comfortable, but does not offer treatment for the cancer. Since the patient may only have a year or so to live even with cancer treatment, palliative care is an option which tends to reduce pain and suffering. Patients who choose this option should only do so after discussing the issue with their doctors and family members.

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anon343159
Post 5

My uncle was told he had superficial bladder cancer. He had an operation and told he needed radiotherapy. We waited on an appointment which didn't arrive. After numerous calls we got him the treatment. He was to go for a scan six to eight weeks after treatment. Guess what? Again, his appointment wasn't scheduled. After months of calls, we got him his scan and we were told he had metastatic bladder cancer. Negligence -- that's all I have to say. If he had gotten his appointment and scans, he might still be here.

anon298024
Post 4

In my husband's case, he quit smoking cigarettes over 20 years ago. He had reoccurring kidney stones. The last kidney stone, which had to be removed surgically, formed 13 months before he died.

I just wanted to stress that a doctor/urologist who dismisses the bladder cancer as "superficial" should be urged to constantly check for signs of the cancer spreading. My husband had a CT scan done in June of 2011 prior to treatment for his "first" diagnosis of the cancer. After treatments ended in Sept. 2011, a follow up cystoscopy revealed three more tumours. Another surgery ensued, but no CT scan was performed (to see if cancer had spread).

After the second surgery, he had back pain almost constantly. When he returned for further treatment after the second surgery, the cancer had already spread. It was that quick. Also, doctors were not forthcoming about the outcome. We were given some false hope that treatment would help. Some doctors said that he had only months to live. It was, in fact, weeks.

anon270882
Post 3

Sadly, my husband died of bladder cancer which metastasized to the spine/lung/nodes. He was 56 years old. It was treated as superficial and not until he complained of back pain was it discovered that it had spread. From the diagnosis of the metastasized cancer to his death was under two months. Please treat this as a serious cancer and seek a second or third opinion if necessary.

sunnySkys
Post 2

@Monika - Thanks for posting that info! From what I hear catching cancer early is a big factor in whether or not it metastasizes.

Also, a note on palliative care: a lot of times this kind of care is provided in a hospice. Basically the point is to make the patient comfortable when the illness is too far along to treat. I have a friend who works at a hospice and I don't think I could it!

Monika
Post 1

Reading this article really freaked me out. Metastatic bladder cancer sounds pretty serious! I did a search to see what the symptoms of bladder cancer are to see how easy it would be to catch bladder cancer early.

In case anyone is wondering, the symptoms are blood in the urine, urinary tract infection-like symptoms without having a UTI, and having to go to the bathroom a lot. Also, apparently smoking has been linked to bladder cancer!

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