Bladder cancer spreads when cancerous cells reproduce and invade surrounding healthy tissues. This is known as metastasis. Usually, metastatic bladder cancer refers to cancer that has spread to distant organs, but metastasis can occur locally in the muscles and connective tissues that are directly adjacent to the bladder as well.
Understanding local bladder cancer metastasis
When bladder cancer spreads, it first invades the bladder wall, which is made up of four distinct layers. It can take some time for cancer to penetrate all of these layers, but once it has, it can then spread into the surrounding fatty tissues and lymph nodes. Once bladder cancer has reached the lymph nodes, it can travel to distant parts of the body through the lymphatic system. Separately, it can also continue to grow into surrounding areas such as the abdominal wall (peritoneum).
Distant bladder cancer metastasis
Once cancerous cells have reached the lymphatic system, they can make their way to almost any part of the body. Bladder cancer that has spread outside the bladder into other areas is called metastatic bladder cancer, also known as stage 4 bladder cancer. The most common sites for distant bladder cancer metastases include the:
Metastatic bladder cancer can also spread to other organs in the urinary and reproductive tracts, such as the prostate, uterus and vagina.
How is metastatic bladder cancer treated?
The way that metastatic bladder cancer is treated depends primarily on where the cancer has spread and the type of cells that make up the primary tumor. It’s important to remember that when bladder cancer spreads, the secondary tumors are still considered to be bladder cancer – not lung cancer, liver cancer or any other type of malignancy. Potential treatment options may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and clinical trials.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we’ve treated many patients with metastatic bladder cancer, creating tailored treatment plans for every single one. To help ease the burdens of treatment, we also offer comprehensive supportive care services for patients and their caregivers.
Medically Reviewed by, Scott Gilbert, MD, Department of Genitourinary Oncology.
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