Bladder cancer

Bladder cancer is where a growth of abnormal cancerous tissue, known as a tumour, develops in the bladder lining. The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in your urine. If you notice blood in your urine, you should visit your GP, so the cause can be investigated.

Symptoms of bladder cancer

Blood in your urine is the most common symptom of bladder cancer.

It's usually painless. You may notice streaks of blood in your urine or the blood may turn your urine brown. The blood isn't always noticeable and it may come and go.

Less common symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • a need to urinate on a more frequent basis
  • sudden urges to urinate
  • a burning sensation when passing urine

If bladder cancer reaches an advanced stage and begins to spread, symptoms can include:

When to see your GP

If you ever have blood in your urine – even if it comes and goes – you should see your GP. This is so the cause can be investigated.

Having blood in your urine doesn't mean you definitely have bladder cancer. There are other, more common, causes including:

Causes of bladder cancer

Most cases of bladder cancer appear to be caused by exposure to harmful substances. This can lead to abnormal changes in the bladder's cells over many years.

Tobacco smoke is a common cause. It's estimated that half of all cases of bladder cancer are caused by smoking.

Contact with certain chemicals previously used in manufacturing is also known to cause bladder cancer. These substances have since been banned.

Treatment for bladder cancer

If you are diagnosed with bladder cancer, your hospital consultant will discuss treatment options with you.

In cases of bladder cancer where the cancer hasn’t spread to the bladder muscle, it's usually possible to remove the cancerous cells from the lining of the bladder, while leaving the rest of the bladder intact.

If the cancer is more advanced, or is a type of cancer of higher risk, treatment may involve surgically removing the bladder.

A course of radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be recommended; both may be given together. These treatments may also be used along with surgical treatment.

Preventing bladder cancer

It's not always possible to prevent bladder cancer. But some risk factors have been identified, which may increase your risk of developing the condition.

Stopping smoking

If you smoke, stopping is the best way to help reduce your risk of developing bladder cancer and preventing it from recurring.

Workplace safety

Your risk of bladder cancer could be increased if your job involves exposure to certain chemicals.

There are safety protocols in place designed to minimise your risk of exposure. Chemicals known to increase the risk of bladder cancer have been banned.

 If you're uncertain about what these protocols involve, talk to your line manager or health and safety representative.


There's some evidence to suggest that a diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in fat can help to prevent bladder cancer.

Even though this evidence is limited, it's a good idea to follow a healthy diet, as it can help to prevent other types of cancer, such as bowel cancer, as well as serious health conditions, including high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke and heart disease.

Types of bladder cancer

Once diagnosed, bladder cancer can be classified by how far it has spread.

If the cancerous cells are contained inside the lining of the bladder, doctors describe it as non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

This is the most common type of bladder cancer, accounting for 7 out of 10 cases. Most people don't die as a result of this type of bladder cancer.

When the cancerous cells spread beyond the lining, into the surrounding muscles of the bladder, it's known as muscle-invasive bladder cancer. This is less common, but has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body and can be fatal.

Who is affected

Bladder cancer is more common in older adults. More than 90 per cent of people diagnosed in Northern Ireland between 2011 and 2015 were over the age of 55.

Rates are highest among men aged 85-89 and highest among women aged over 90.  

In Northern Ireland, the probability a man will develop bladder cancer before the age of 75 is around 1 in 115.

 The probability a woman will develop bladder cancer before the age of 75 is 1 in 382.

In Northern Ireland, bladder cancer is about twice as common in men as it is in women.


Rates of bladder cancer have been decreasing in Northern Ireland in recent years. Most cases are diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Survival rates are better the earlier a diagnosis is made, so if you have symptoms (see above), the quicker you get advice the better the outcome if you have cancer.

In Northern Ireland, overall, for men diagnosed with bladder cancer, 58.9 per cent are living at five years after diagnosis and treatment; for women the figure is 47.4 per cent.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review May 2019

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