If you have symptoms that suggest bladder cancer, your doctor will try to find out what’s causing the problems.
You may have a physical exam. Also, you may have one or more of the following tests:
- Urine tests: The lab checks your urine for blood, cancer cells, and other signs of disease.
- Cystoscopy: Your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (a cystoscope) to look directly into your bladder. It may be done at your doctor’s office. This test can be uncomfortable because the doctor will insert the cystoscope into the bladder through your urethra. You may need local anesthesia for this test.
- Biopsy: Your doctor can remove samples of tissue with the cystoscope. A pathologist then examines the tissue under a microscope. The removal of tissue to look for cancer cells is called a biopsy. In most cases, a biopsy is the only sure way to tell whether cancer is present.
For a small number of patients, the doctor removes the entire area with cancer during the biopsy. For these patients, bladder cancer is diagnosed and treated at the same time.
If cancer cells are found in the tissue sample from the bladder, the pathologist studies the sample under a microscope to learn the grade of the tumor. The grade tells how much the tumor tissue differs from normal bladder tissue. It may suggest how fast the tumor is likely to grow.
Tumors with higher grades tend to grow faster than those with lower grades. They are also more likely to spread. Doctors use tumor grade along with other factors to suggest treatment options.
You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having a biopsy:
- Why do I need a biopsy?
- How long will it take? Will I be awake? Will it hurt?
- What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy? Are there any other risks?
- How soon will I know the results? How do I get a copy of the pathology report?
- If I do have cancer, who will talk with me about treatment? When?