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Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of bladder cancer, such as blood in your urine, you should see your GP.

Your GP may ask about your symptoms, family history and whether you've been exposed to any possible causes of bladder cancer, such as smoking.

In some cases, your GP may request a urine sample, so it can be tested in a laboratory for traces of blood, bacteria or abnormal cells.

Your GP may also carry out a physical examination of your rectum and vagina, as bladder cancer sometimes causes a noticeable lump that presses against them.

If your doctor suspects bladder cancer, you'll be referred to a hospital for further tests.

At the hospital

Some hospitals have specialist clinics for people with blood in their urine (haematuria), while others have specialist urology departments for people with urinary tract problems.

Cystoscopy

If you're referred to a hospital specialist and they think you might have bladder cancer, you should first be offered a cystoscopy.

This procedure allows the specialist to examine the inside of your bladder by passing a cystoscope through your urethra (the tube through which you urinate). A cystoscope is a thin tube with a camera and light at the end.

Before having a cystoscopy, a local anaesthetic gel is applied to your urethra (the tube through which you urinate) so you don't feel any pain. The gel also helps the cystoscope to pass into the urethra more easily.

The procedure usually takes about 5 minutes.

Imaging scans

You may be offered a CT scan or an MRI scan if the specialist feels they need a more detailed picture of your bladder.

An intravenous (IV) urogram may also be used to look at your whole urinary system before or after treatment for bladder cancer.

During this procedure, dye is injected into your bloodstream and X-rays are used to study it as it passes through your urinary system.

Transurethral resection of a bladder tumour (TURBT)

If abnormalities are found in your bladder during a cystoscopy, you should be offered an operation known as TURBT. This is so any abnormal areas of tissue can be removed and tested for cancer (a biopsy).

TURBT is carried out under general anaesthetic.

Sometimes, a sample of the muscle wall of your bladder is also taken to check whether the cancer has spread, but this may be a separate operation within 6 weeks of the first biopsy.

You should also be offered a dose of chemotherapy after the operation. This may help to prevent the bladder cancer returning, if the removed cells are found to be cancerous.

See treating bladder cancer for more information about the TURBT procedure.

Staging and grading

Once these tests have been completed, it should be possible to tell you the grade of the cancer and what stage it is.

Staging is a measurement of how far the cancer has spread. Lower-stage cancers are smaller and have a better chance of successful treatment.

Grading is a measurement of how likely a cancer is to spread. The grade of a cancer is usually described using a number system ranging from G1 to G3. High-grade cancers are more likely to spread than low-grade cancers. 

The most widely used staging system for bladder cancer is known as the TNM system, where:

T stages

The T staging system is as follows:

Bladder cancer up to the T1 stage is usually called early bladder cancer or non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

If the tumour grows larger than this, it's usually called muscle-invasive bladder cancer and is categorised as:

If the tumour grows larger than the T3 stage, it's considered to be advanced bladder cancer and is categorised as:

N stages

The N staging system is as follows:

M stages

There are only two options in the M system:

The TNM system can be difficult to understand, so don't be afraid to ask your care team questions about your test results and what they mean for your treatment and outlook.

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