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Find out about cystoscopy including what it is, how you have it and what happens afterwards.

Cystoscopy is a test to look at the inside of your bladder using a thin, flexible tube called a cystoscope. 

A cystoscope has optic fibres inside it and a light and eyepiece attached to it. Using a cystoscope your doctor can see the inside of your bladder. The pictures might also be shown on a TV monitor. 

If necessary, the doctor can pass small instruments down the cystoscope to take samples of tissue (biopsies) from the bladder lining. 

You can have a cystoscopy under local or general anaesthetic, depending on what the doctor needs to do.

Cystoscopy for a man

Diagram showing a cystoscopy for a man

Cystoscopy for a woman

Diagram showing a cystoscopy for a woman

Why you might have this test

This is the most important test for diagnosing cancer of the bladder. You might also have a cystoscopy if you are having investigations for other types of cancer, to see if there is any spread to the bladder.

What happens

This test only takes a few minutes. You usually have it at a hospital as an outpatient.

You undress your lower half and may have a gown to put on. Then you lie on your back on the bed or couch.

The doctor places a sterile sheet over you. They clean the area and squeeze some anaesthetic jelly into the tube where your urine comes out (urethra). In men, this means squeezing the jelly down the penis. This doesn't hurt but can feel uncomfortable.

Once the local anaesthetic works, the doctor puts the cystoscope into your bladder. They fill your bladder with sterile water. You may feel like you need to go to the toilet.

Then the doctor moves the tube around so they can examine the whole of the inside of your bladder.

For this test, you have to go into hospital. You will probably not have to go in until the day of the test. You will be asked not to eat or drink anything for at least 6 hours before you have the test.

You may have a blood test and a chest x-ray first. This is routine for anyone having a general anaesthetic. Then you will put on a hospital gown and lie down on the theatre trolley. The trolley is wheeled down to the operating theatre, where you have the anaesthetic. In some hospitals, instead of a general anaesthetic, you may have a spinal anaesthetic instead. The anaesthetist puts an injection into your spine (epidural) so that you cannot feel anything from below your waist. You may have some antibiotics before the test.

While you are under anaesthetic, your specialist will thoroughly examine the inside of your bladder and urethra using the cytsoscope. They will take samples of tissue (biopsies) from any areas that look abnormal. Your doctor may also take random biopsies from areas of bladder lining that look normal. This helps to make sure of the diagnosis. The biopsied areas are sealed with a hot probe afterwards (cauterised) to help stop any bleeding.

You can usually go home the same day. This will depend on:

  • how many biopsies were taken
  • how you react to the anaesthetic
  • the time of day you have the anaesthetic – if it is very late in the day, it may be better for you to stay overnight

If there are large tumours which need treatment, you will need to stay longer and you may need a catheter (a tube into the bladder to drain urine) for a few days after the operation.

Possible risks

Most people do not have problems after having a cystoscopy but as with any medical procedure, there are possible risks. You might have mild burning or stinging when you pass urine. It may also look slightly blood stained for a day or two. Drinking plenty should help with this.

You should contact the hospital if you are still bleeding 48 hours after your test, the bleeding is getting worse or there are blood clots in your urine.

There is a small risk of infection. Symptoms can include:

  • going to the toilet more often
  • burning and stinging when passing urine
  • high temperature
  • feeling hot and cold or shivery
  • cloudy or offensive smelling urine
  • generally feeling unwell

If you think you have an infection, you should go to your GP. They can prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

Rarely, you may have difficulty passing urine after cystoscopy. If this happens, you may need a catheter for a short time. There is also a risk of delayed bleeding and damage to the bladder wall or urethra.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks.

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

More information

We have more information on tests, treatment and support if you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Last reviewed: 
20 Apr 2015
  • Flexible Cystoscopy (Procedure Information for Patients)

    The British Association of Urological Surgeons, 2014

  • Rigid Cystoscopy (Procedure Information for Patients)

    The British Association of Urological Surgeons, 2014

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