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What is bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer begins when cells in the lining of the bladder (urothelium) become abnormal. This causes the cells to grow and divide out of control. As the cancer grows, it may start to spread into the deeper layers of the bladder wall. Some cancer cells can also break off and travel outside the bladder to other parts of the body.

What are the main types?

There are three main types of bladder cancer, which are named after the cells they start in.

urothelial carcinomastarts in the urothelial cells lining the bladder wall; most common type (80–90% of all bladder cancers); also called transitional cell carcinoma
squamous cell carcinomastarts in thin, flat squamous cells in the bladder lining; accounts for 1–2% of all bladder cancers; more likely to be invasive
adenocarcinomadevelops from the glandular cells in the bladder; makes up about 1% of all bladder cancers; likely to be invasive

There are also rarer types of bladder cancer. These include sarcomas, which start in the muscle, and aggressive forms called small cell carcinoma, plasmacytoid carcinoma and micropapillary carcinoma.

Urothelial carcinoma occasionally starts in a ureter or part of the kidney. This is known as Upper Tract Urothelial Cancer. For information about how this cancer is diagnosed and treated, download our Understanding Upper Tract Urothelial Cancer fact sheet.

How common is bladder cancer?

Each year, almost 3100 Australians are diagnosed with bladder cancer. Most people diagnosed with bladder cancer are 60 or older, but it can occur at any age.

About 1 in every 110 men will be diagnosed with bladder cancer before age 75, making it one of the 10 most common cancers in men. For women, the chance is about 1 in 500.

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Understanding Bladder Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in February 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Dickon Hayne, Professor of Urology, UWA Medical School, The University of Western Australia, Chair of the Bladder, Urothelial and Penile Cancer Subcommittee, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, and Head of Urology, South Metropolitan Health Service, WA; A/Prof Tom Shakespeare, Director, Radiation Oncology, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Lismore Public Hospitals, NSW; Helen Anderson, Genitourinary Cancer Nurse Navigator (CNS), Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; BEAT Bladder Cancer Australia; Mark Jenkin, Consumer; Dr Ganessan Kichenadasse, Lead, SA Cancer Clinical Network, Commission of Excellence and Innovation in Health, and Medical Oncologist, Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, SA; A/Prof James Lynam, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Jack McDonald, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer and Blood Disorders, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Prof Shomik Sengupta, Consultant Urologist, Eastern Health and Professor of Surgery, Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University, VIC.