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Metastatic bladder cancer is bladder cancer which has spread to other parts of the body. The prognosis for patients with bladder cancer which has metastasized can be grim, depending on where additional tumors have developed and how quickly medical intervention is offered to treat the cancer. As with all cancers, the earlier the condition is recognized and treated, the better the outcome will be for the patient. Patients are also advised to seek a second opinion during cancer treatment, as research in this field moves fast, and a different doctor may have additional information or a different treatment approach which offers more hope.
This type of bladder cancer starts with a tumor in the bladder which spreads via the bloodstream and lymphatic system through the body, causing tumors to develop in other parts of the body. When metastatic bladder cancer causes something like a tumor in the liver, that tumor is treated as bladder cancer and referred to as bladder cancer, because it contains cells from the original bladder cancer. These tumors may also be referred to as “secondary,” referencing the fact that they are not found at the primary site of the cancer.
Doctors diagnose metastatic bladder cancer with the assistance of biopsy and medical imaging studies. At the time of diagnosis, an estimated five percent of bladder cancer cases are metastatic. Depending on where the cancer has spread, there are several treatment options. In most cases, patients are offered chemotherapy and radiation with the goal of shrinking the tumors. Surgery to remove the tumors, including a cystectomy in which the bladder is removed, is another treatment option.
In some cases, metastatic bladder cancer can be managed very effectively, with the tumors responding to aggressive treatment by shrinking. In other instances, the cancer may continue to spread, or the tumors may fail to shrink. In cases where surgery is not an option in the opinion of the surgeon, metastatic bladder cancer can cause death within a year.
If the spread of the cancer is severe, the doctor may recommend palliative care only, after discussing the situation with the patient. Palliative care focuses on keeping the patient comfortable, but does not offer treatment for the cancer. Since the patient may only have a year or so to live even with cancer treatment, palliative care is an option which tends to reduce pain and suffering. Patients who choose this option should only do so after discussing the issue with their doctors and family members.