Bladder Cancer Staging

The most important information a bladder cancer patient can get once a diagnosis has been confirmed is the stage of the disease. It gives physicians the information they need to initiate treatment and the patients a better idea of the standard of care they should expect.

Bladder cancer is classified based on three characteristics called the tumor, node and metastasis, or TNM, system. For each of these, a numeric value is placed to signify how far the cancer has spread, with stage 1 being the most mild to stage 4 as the most severe.

However, this rating scale also makes it easy for bladder cancer patients to get caught up in statistics and survival rates. It is important to remember that good overall health and a strong medical team will aid in overcoming the disease.

Stage 1

In stage 1 bladder cancer, cancerous tumors grow just in the inner layers of the bladder.

  • Life Expectancy – More than 90 percent of patients will survive at least five years after a stage 1 bladder cancer diagnosis. As with all survival rate estimates, it is important to remember that the most recent statistics can date up to two decades ago and don't take medical advances into account.
  • Treatment – A surgical procedure called a transurethral resection (TURBT) is used to cut or burn cancerous tissue. Often, chemotherapy or immunotherapy is also used.
  • Prognosis – Stage 1 patients who are otherwise healthy typically move forward with a recovery rapidly. Since bladder cancer is known to recur, patients must undergo repeated medical scans in the years following a diagnosis.
  • Survival Rate – With 96.6 percent of bladder cancer diagnoses happening in stage 1, there is a high survival rate.

Stage 2

In this stage, the cancer has invaded the muscular bladder wall.

  • Life Expectancy – More than 70 percent of stage 2 patients survive at least five years after the diagnosis. Many survive much longer.
  • Treatment – Often, a TURBT is used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
  • Prognosis – Like stage 1, otherwise healthy patients have an excellent chance of a rapid recovery.
  • Survival Rate – Because the cancer has not dramatically spread, patients in this stage have averaged 71 percent survival rate.
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Stage 3

Here, the cancer has grown through the bladder walls and possibly spread to the nearby tissues and organs.

  • Life Expectancy – More than 50 percent of those with stage 3 bladder cancers survive five years or more after a diagnosis.
  • Treatment – Because this stage of cancer is more aggressive, chemotherapy and radiation is often used before and after surgery. Sometimes the urinary bladder must be removed.
  • Prognosis – While this cancer is harder to treat and tends to recur, otherwise healthy patients tend to fare better than those who face additional medical problems.
  • Survival Rate – About 50 percent of bladder cancers are diagnosed at this stage, indicating a survival rate that is more hopeful than in the later stage.

Stage 4

The cancer has reached organs throughout the body and lymph nodes.

  • Life Expectancy – About five percent of patients diagnosed at this stage survive five or more years.
  • Treatment – In most cases, surgical removal of the cancer is not possible. Treatment is aimed at slowing the cancerous growths. Clinical trials that could offer better treatment choices are often recommended.
  • Prognosis – The goals for patients undergoing stage 4 cancer treatment is to keep comfortable while relieving symptoms.
  • Survival Rate – Since only about five percent of bladder cancers are diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, the survival rate is less hopeful than in earlier stages.