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Basics of bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer happens when abnormal cells start to grow out of control in the urinary bladder. The American Cancer Society® estimates that about 84,000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2021, and it is also much more common in men than in women1.

The most common type of bladder cancer is called urothelial carcinoma. This kind of cancer starts in the urothelial cells that form the innermost lining of the bladder. Urothelial cells are also found in the lining of the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), and the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body), so tumors can form there as well.

Urothelial cancers fall into different categories. They can be invasive or non-invasive.

  • Non-invasive – cancer cells are limited to the innermost lining of the bladder 
  • Invasive – cancer cells have grown into the deeper layers of the bladder wall

They can also be papillary or flat, which refers to the way the tumors grow.

  • Papillary tumors – grow in finger-like projections out from the bladder walls toward the center of the bladder (the hollow part)
  • Flat tumors – grow along the lining of the bladder and do not project into the center of the bladder

Other types of bladder cancer include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (1-2 percent of cases)
  • Adenocarcinoma (1 percent of cases)
  • Small cell carcinoma (less than 1 percent of cases)
  • Sarcoma (very rare)

Treatment of bladder cancer depends on the specific type of cancer you have, its extent (stage), whether it has spread to other parts of the body, and your overall state of health. Common treatments include: 

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Immunotherapy
  • Intravesical therapy, in which a drug is put directly into the bladder (instead of being injected or taken by mouth). This exposes the cancer cells to the drug without exposing healthy cells in other parts of the body.

Because most treatments for cancer have side effects, it’s important to take care of yourself both before and during treatment. Some things you can do to make treatment easier include:

  • Getting enough rest
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Staying physically active
  • Staying connected with family and friends

If you have any questions about your treatment, or have concerns about side effects, talk to your doctor or call your CVS Specialty CareTeam at 1-800-237-2767.

This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about your medical condition and prior to starting any new treatment. CVS Specialty assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content.

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1. American Cancer Society Website. Accessed October 3, 2018.