What is bladder cancer

Bladder cancer is cancer that starts in the inner lining of the bladder.

How common it is

Around 10,200 people are diagnosed with bladder cancer in the UK every year. It's the 11th most common cancer in the UK, and the 8th most common cancer in men.

Who gets it

Bladder cancer usually takes a long time to develop, so it is most common in older people. Almost 60 out of 100 (almost 60%) of new cases are in people aged 75 and over. It is rare in people under 40.

More men than women get bladder cancer. This may just be because more men than women have smoked or been exposed to chemicals at work in recent decades. 

The bladder

Your bladder is part of the body system that filters waste products out of your blood and makes urine (wee). This is called the urinary system (or urinary tract). It includes the:​

  • kidneys
  • ureters
  • bladder
  • urethra
Diagram showing the urinary system in men
Diagram showing the urinary system in women

You have two kidneys, one on each side of your body. The kidneys filter your blood and make urine. The urine is carried to your bladder by two tubes called the ureters.

Your bladder is like a balloon which stores urine. It's a stretchy bag made of muscle tissue. It can hold about 300 to 400mls of urine.

When we empty our bladder, the urine passes down a tube called the urethra and out of the body. The urethra in men passes through the prostate gland and down the penis. The urethra in women is much shorter. It passes from the bladder down to an opening just in front of the vagina.

In men, the prostate gland surrounds the lower part of the bladder. 

Layers of the bladder

Your bladder is made up of layers.

The first layer is on the inside of your bladder and is called transitional epithelium. It is a special type of lining that stretches as the bladder fills up. It stops the urine being absorbed back into your body. 

The second layer is a thin layer of connective tissue called the lamina propria.

The third layer is muscle tissue called the muscularis propria.

The fourth layer is fatty connective tissue. It separates the bladder from other body organs, such as the prostate and kidneys.

Diagram showing the layers of the bladder

Where bladder cancer starts

Bladder cancer starts in the inner lining of your bladder called the transitional epithelium.

Treatment for bladder cancer depends on how far the cancer has grown into the layers of your bladder (the stage of your cancer).

Last reviewed: 
22 Oct 2018
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  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.