Bladder Cancer Clinical Presentation

Updated: Feb 02, 2023
  • Author: Kara N Babaian, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Approximately 80-90% of patients with bladder cancer present with painless gross hematuria. Most patients with this classic presentation should be considered to have bladder cancer until proof to the contrary is found. 

Hematuria is not the only manifestation of an underlying bladder cancer. Irritative bladder symptoms such as dysuria, urgency, or frequency of urination occur in 20-30% of patients with bladder cancer. Although irritative symptoms may be related to more advanced muscle-invasive disease, carcinoma in situ (CIS) is the more likely cause. Therefore, patients presenting with unexplained or refractory irritative symptoms should be considered for cystoscopy and urine cytology. The threshold for doing so should be especially low in persons who smoke or have other risk factors.

Patients with advanced disease can present with pelvic or bony pain, lower-extremity edema from iliac vessel compression, or flank pain from ureteral obstruction.




Physical Examination

Non ̶ muscle-invasive bladder cancer is typically not found during a physical examination. In rare cases, a mass is palpable during abdominal, pelvic, rectal, or bimanual examination. A bimanual examination may be considered part of the staging of such lesions. In women, a bimanual pelvic examination is done; in men, a bimanual examination is performed with one hand per rectum and the other on the lower abdominal wall.

Attention to the anterior vaginal wall in women and the prostate in men may reveal findings that suggest local extension of bladder cancer. Assessment of fixation of the bladder to the surrounding pelvic sidewall is also important when planning definitive management for locally advanced tumors that may not be surgically resectable.