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Bladder Cancer Tests, Diagnosis, Stages, and Prognosis

The caring team of experts at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center offers a variety of tests for bladder cancer to fit your care needs.

What Tests Screen for Bladder Cancer?

  • Urine test: A urine cytology is an examination of urine under a microscope to test for abnormal cells. Your doctor can collect urine during a cystoscopy or you can provide a urine sample.
  • Blood tests: A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) to test kidney and liver function tests.
  • Cystoscopy: A thin, flexible tube with a camera lens, called a cystoscope, is inserted in the urethra to examine it and the bladder for signs of disease. Your doctor also may take a tissue sample (biopsy). A cystoscopy is an outpatient procedure that only takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Imaging tests:
    • CT urogram: Computerized tomography (CT) of the bladder, ureters and kidneys is called a CT urogram. It can help identify where the cancer is and how big. The scan takes x-rays to create a 3-dimensional (3D) image. A CT urogram is usually an outpatient that takes 60 to 90 minutes.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An image test to look for signs of cancer or its spread to nearby tissues. MRIs do not use x-rays. The outpatient procedure takes about an hour and the patient lays on a table that slides into a tube.
    • Ultrasound: Using sound waves, ultrasounds look at the size of a tumor and if it’s spread to other organs. An ultrasound is an outpatient procedure that take less than 30 minutes.
    • PET scan: This scan uses radioactive tracers to show how tissue and organs are working.
    • Bone scan: A bone scan is used to look at the bones to diagnose any irregularities or problems.
  • Genetic testing: If you have bladder cancer risk factors, you may consider genetic testing even before you experience symptoms. Genetic testing looks for changes in chromosomes, genes or proteins. It can help determine your chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder.

What Are the Stages of Bladder Cancer?

Bladder cancer staging, or how much the body is affected, is complex. Stage 0 is the earliest bladder cancer can be diagnosed and stage 4 is the most advanced. Your doctor will explain what stage your cancer is and what it means.

  • Stage 0: Early cancer found on the surface (in situ) of the bladder’s inner lining. Cancer cells are grouped together and often can be easily removed.
  • Stage 1: Cancer is in the bladder’s inner lining, but not yet in the bladder muscle’s wall, lymph nodes, or other organs.
  • Stage 2: Cancer has spread to the bladder muscle’s wall, but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage 3: Cancer has spread to the bladder muscle’s wall and fatty tissue, and nearby lymph nodes or organs (prostate in men or uterus and vagina in women).
  • Stage 4: The cancer has spread parts of the body further away from the bladder.

What’s My Prognosis?

The earlier bladder cancer is found, the better the chance for successful treatment. However, many patients are not diagnosed until they experience symptoms, which often occurs in later stages.

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