Common Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is among the most common types of cancer, with approximately 79,000 new diagnoses in the United States each year—the vast majority of which are in males. According to the American Cancer Society, this accounts for “about 5-percent of all new cancers in the US.”

Despite how common it is, bladder cancer is challenging to identify in its early stages, as it may not show any signs or symptoms. Typically, “symptoms appear once the tumour grows larger or into the deeper layers of the bladder wall,” says the Canadian Cancer Society. Because of the late onset of symptoms, it’s important to identify them quickly so as to begin treatment right away. Here are the five most common ones to be mindful of.

Blood in the Urine

Blood in the urine, medically known as hematuria, is the most common symptom of the disease, occurring in “8 or 9 out of 10 people who have bladder cancer,” says WebMD. Hematuria isn’t always a consistent issue, though. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “blood may always be in the urine, or it may come and go.”

And even when it is present, the source says, it may cause the urine to vary in color, “from pale yellow-red to bright or rusty red.” In some cases, the blood may not even be visible to the naked eye; this is known as microscopic hematuria, as it is only identifiable under a microscope.

Pain During Urination

Experiencing pain, discomfort, or a burning sensation while urinating is also common. This is medically known as dysuria, and while it may be due to bladder cancer, other possible causes can include urinary tract infections, bladder stones, or an enlarged prostate (in men).

To distinguish dysuria caused by bladder cancer from that caused by a urinary tract infection, for instance, the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network suggests “a urinalysis and/or culture are done to detect any bacteria in the urine.” If no bacteria are present, an infection can be ruled out and the person “should be referred to a urologist for further testing.”

Urinary Frequency and Urgency

Other urination issues that commonly occur with bladder cancer include the need to urinate often (known as urinary frequency) and urinary urgency, which defines as “an inability to hold the urine for any length of time after the initial desire to void.”

As the disease progresses, the individual may struggle to pass any urine at all. This symptom is often due to a growing tumor blocking the urine from getting to the urethra and exiting the body.

Flank Pain

Pain in the lower back around the kidneys, which is known as flank pain, more commonly occurs as bladder cancer becomes advanced. says it is “due to obstruction of urine flow from kidney to the bladder by the growing tumor mass in the bladder.”

WebMD adds that flank pain is often felt “just below the rib cage and above the waist” and can occur “one or both sides of the back.” Additionally, it tends to worsen as the bladder fills up, and in some cases, the pain may even extend to the bladder and surrounding areas, such as the genitals.

Other Late Symptoms

There are a wide variety of other symptoms that may present as bladder cancer progresses or spreads to other areas of the body. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one such symptom is “swelling in the legs, scrotum (the pouch of skin below the penis that contains the testicles) or vulva (the outer female sex organs).”

Other symptoms include a growth in the pelvis, as well as pain in the bones of this area. The individual may also suffer from a loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss. Additionally, they may have frequent fevers or struggle with anemia.


Rachel Despres