Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Bladder Cancer

by Bethany Kandel Health Writer

Bladder cancer is one of the most common cancers, but one that most people know little about. You probably have many questions and concerns if you or a loved one are newly diagnosed — or if you’re in treatment or beyond. There’s a lot of information to take in, so be prepared. Here are some of the questions you may have for your doctor and answers supplied by the American Bladder Cancer Society to get you started.

Diagnosis bladder cancer.

Q: How bad is bladder cancer?

A: In its early stage, bladder cancer is very treatable and survivable. In fact, 70-80 percent of newly diagnosed patients present with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, which means it can often be treated by removing the tumor through the urethra and doesn’t require cutting into the abdomen.

Transitional cell cancer of bladder under microscope.

Q: What type of bladder cancer do I have?

A: While it is called one disease, bladder cancer has many subcategories and types. Transitional cell carcinoma (also called urothelial carcinoma) is the most common form of bladder cancer, which starts in the cells that line the inside of the bladder.

Looking through microscope at biopsy samples.

Q: What stage is my cancer?

A: The stage of your cancer is used to describe how far a cancer has spread. The staging system used for bladder cancer is based on how far the primary tumor has grown through the bladder wall (if at all) and whether it has grown into nearby tissues, spread to the lymph nodes, or if it has metastasized to other organs. To learn more about staging, go to the American Cancer Society.

Oncologist reviewing patients tests.

Q: What about recurrence?

A: Bladder cancer does have a nasty habit of recurring so patients who were treated in an early stage are advised to continue to have frequent exams with their urologist so that any recurrences are found and treated early before they have spread.

Medical researchers reviewing trial data.

Q: Are there clinical trials I could take part in?

A: There are many clinical trials aimed at all stages of bladder cancer. Talk to your doctor about any that are going on within their institution or look for one yourself. Do your homework so you know the benefits and if the trial offers an enhanced potential to help you more than standard treatment. For help finding a clinical trial, use the National Cancer Institute Clinical Trial Finder or the Clinical Trial Finder at the NIH Center for Cancer Research.

Talking to doctor about treatment options.

Q: What are the treatment options for bladder cancer?

A: There are many ways your doctor may treat your cancer, including various types of surgery to remove the tumor or to remove all or some of the bladder (called a cystectomy), immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination.

Doctors performing surgery

Q: Will I need a cystectomy?

A: For some people with bladder cancer, a cystectomy may be necessary — removal of the bladder with reconstruction to make a urinary diversion. The most common diversion urologists use allows urine to drain through a stoma (an opening in the belly) into an external bag affixed to the abdomen.

Feet in bed

Q: Will a cystectomy affect my sexuality?

A: Nerve sparing radical cystectomy is an option dependent on each individual’s situation. In this procedure the nerve bundles that control erection in men and orgasm in women are spared. Discuss the possibility of using this procedure with your doctor.

Support group

Q: What can I do if I have concerns about my day-to-day life after treatment?

A: It may help for you to talk to others who have dealt with bladder cancer and cystectomy to learn how they cope. United Ostomy Associations of America has support groups around the U.S. and the American Bladder Cancer Society has an active online forum that’s available 24/7.

Laptop and books, continued learning concept.

Learn all you can about bladder cancer

Get the facts by asking the right questions. Remember, everyone’s situation is different and your doctor and entire medical team will help you choose the right treatment plan for you so you can continue to live life to the fullest.

Bethany Kandel
Meet Our Writer
Bethany Kandel

Bethany Kandel is a New York-based journalist, health writer, and author. Her articles have appeared in dozens of national publications and websites, including The New York Times, Prevention, Good Housekeeping, and Woman’s Day. After a breast cancer diagnosis, she began writing about the subject. She created Breast Cancer Freebies, where she helps patients/survivors find free wigs, hats, and other resources to help them thrive. Find her on Twitter @cancerfreebies.