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Stages

The stage of a cancer means how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. Knowing the stage helps your doctor decide which treatment you need.

The tests you have to diagnose your bladder cancer help your doctor find what its stage is.

The TNM staging system is the most common way that doctors stage bladder cancer. TNM stands for Tumour, Node, Metastasis.

Your doctor may call your bladder cancer non muscle invasive (early), invasive or advanced.

Doctors may also use a number staging system, but this is less common for bladder cancer.

Tumour (T)

Tumour describes the size of the tumour.

Doctors find the T stage by taking tissue samples (biopsies) to look at the grade of the cancer cells. They also look at your bladder using a cystoscopy and a CT or MRI scan.

There are several T stages:

  • CIS or Tis means very early, high grade cancer cells are only in the innermost layer of the bladder lining

  • Ta means the cancer is just in the innermost layer of the bladder lining

  • T1 means the cancer has started to grow into the connective tissue beneath the bladder lining
  • T2 means the cancer has grown through the connective tissue into the muscle​

  • T2a means the cancer has grown into the superficial muscle

  • T2b means the cancer has grown into the deeper muscle

  • T3 means the cancer has grown through the muscle into the fat layer

  • T3a means the cancer in the fat layer can only be seen under a microscope (microscopic invasion)

  • T3b means the cancer in the fat layer can be seen on tests, or felt by your doctor during an examination under anaesthetic (macroscopic invasion)

  • T4 means the cancer has spread outside the bladder​

  • T4a means the cancer has spread to the prostate, womb (uterus) or vagina

  • T4b means the cancer has spread to the wall of the pelvis or abdomen

Diagram showing the T stages of bladder cancer

Nodes (N)

Node in TNM means your lymph nodes which are a network of glands throughout the body, for example in your armpits, neck and groins. They drain away waste fluid, waste products and damaged cells, and contain cells that fight infection.

There are 4 lymph node (N) stages in bladder cancer. The lymph nodes can be seen and measured on a CT scan or MRI scan. Or they may be found during surgery to remove your bladder if this is needed.

There are several N stages:

  • N0 means no cancer in any lymph nodes
  • N1 means cancer in one lymph node in the pelvis (between your hip bones)
  • N2 means cancer in more than one lymph node in the pelvis
  • N3 means cancer in one or more lymph nodes just outside the pelvis

Bladder cancer can also spread to lymph nodes in the tummy (abdomen) or in the neck.

Metastasis (M)

Metastasis describes whether the cancer has spread to a different part of the body.

There are two M stages:

  • M0 means the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body(distant metastasis)
  • M1 means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body like the bones, lungs or liver

If bladder cancer does spread, it is most likely to spread to distant lymph nodes, the bones, the lungs or the liver. If your cancer has spread, you have advanced bladder cancer.

Number stages

There is another staging system for bladder cancer which is not used often. It uses 5 main stages, numbered from stage 0 to stage 4. Stage 0 is the earliest cancer and stage 4 is the most advanced.

Stage 0

The cancer is just in the innermost layer of the bladder lining (stage 0a) OR there are very early, high grade cancer cells only in the innermost layer of the bladder lining (stage 0is).

Stage 1

The cancer has started to grow into the connective tissue beneath the bladder lining.

Stage 2

The cancer has grown through the connective tissue layer into the muscle of the bladder wall.

Stage 3

The cancer has grown through the muscle into the fat layer and may have spread to the prostate, womb or vagina.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to the wall of the tummy (abdomen) or between the hips (pelvis), to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body such as the the bones, lungs or liver.

Information and help

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