Bladder Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu.

People with bladder cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with bladder cancer do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be another medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Blood or blood clots in the urine

  • Pain or burning sensation during urination

  • Frequent urination

  • Feeling the need to urinate many times throughout the night

  • Feeling the need to urinate, but not being able to pass urine

  • Lower back pain on 1 side of the body

Most often, bladder cancer is diagnosed after a person tells his or her doctor about blood in the urine, also called hematuria. Gross hematuria means that enough blood is present in the urine that the patient can see it. It is also possible that there are small amounts of blood in the urine that cannot be seen. This is called microscopic hematuria, and it can only be found with a urine test.

General urine tests are not used to make a specific diagnosis of bladder cancer because hematuria can be a sign of several other conditions that are not cancer, such as an infection or kidney stones. One type of urine test that can indicate the presence of cancer is cytology, a test in which the urine is studied under a microscope to look for cancer cells. See the Diagnosis section for more information.

Sometimes when the first symptoms of bladder cancer appear, the cancer has already spread to another part of the body. In this situation, the symptoms depend on where the cancer has spread. For example, cancer that has spread to the lungs may cause a cough or shortness of breath, spread to the liver may cause abdominal pain or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), and spread to the bone may cause bone pain or a fracture (broken bone). Other symptoms of advanced bladder cancer may include pain in the back or pelvis, unexplained appetite loss, and weight loss.

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.