Symptoms and diagnosis of bladder cancer


The symptoms of bladder cancer can include:

  • Blood in the urine – either brown or red in colour.
  • Needing to pass urine urgently.
  • Passing urine more often.
  • A burning feeling when you pass urine.

These symptoms can also be due to complaints other than bladder cancer. If you have any of these symptoms you should go to see your GP and tell them about your symptoms. 

It is important that anybody who passes blood in their urine, at any time, is referred to a hospital to see a Urologist (a doctor who specialises in treating bladder and kidney problems).


Testing for bladder cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national bladder cancer screening programme in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. If you are worried about bladder cancer, contact the Cancer Nurseline Freefone 1800 200 700 or speak to your GP.


First, visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital. There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. You may need some of the following tests:

  • A urine check.
  • A rectal exam - a check of the back passage.
  • A vaginal check for women.
  • Cystoscopy - a thin tube with a camera is used to look inside your bladder.

Other tests:

  • Blood tests.
  • Ultrasound scan.
  • IVP (a special X ray which shows your kidneys and bladder).

Learn more about the above tests.

For further information please read the leaflet Understanding Cancer of the Bladder.

Grading and Staging of Bladder Cancer

What are the grades of bladder cancer?

The grade of a cancer is decided by looking at its cells under a microscope. These cells are taken from a biopsy or during an operation on your bladder. The grade describes how much the tumour cells looks like normal bladder cells. It helps your doctors to find out how quickly the cancer may grow and spread. That way, they can decide on further tests and the best treatment for you.
There are different ways to grade bladder cancer. The most commonly used system has three grades:
  • Grade 1 – low grade
  • Grade 2 – moderate grade
  • Grade 3 – high grade

Low grade cancer cells grow slowly and are less likely to spread. High grade cells grow faster and are more likely to spread. Grade 2 is in between.

What are the stages of bladder cancer?

Your doctor may arrange some tests to stage the cancer. Not all people with bladder cancer will need staging tests. Staging means finding out the size of the tumour and whether it has spread anywhere else in your body. Staging helps your doctor to plan the best treatment for you. It refers to how deeply the tumour has grown into your bladder, whether there is cancer in your lymph nodes, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

For more information on bladder cancer staging and grading see our booklet Understanding Cancer of the Bladder.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Friday, August 26, 2016