Tests Used to Diagnose Bladder Cancer

4 min read

Tests Used to Diagnose Bladder Cancer

If you’ve started urinating more frequently or urgently, or you notice even a small amount of blood in your urine, you need to find the cause. One of the first things your doctor will recommend is a urinalysis. A urinalysis is a test of your urine. If the test results are abnormal, your doctor – usually a urologist – will need to look further for the cause of your symptoms. Quite a few conditions cause urinary symptoms, including an infection, prostate issues, or inflammation of the urethra. Bladder cancer is only one possible reason. 

Tests to Diagnose Bladder Cancer

A urinalysis tells the doctor if there are imbalances in your body’s chemicals or tiny amounts of blood in the urine. These could be signs of bladder cancer.

A urinalysis is not enough to provide a sure diagnosis of bladder cancer, however. If your test results are abnormal, your primary care doctor or gynecologist may suggest treatment from a urologist. This doctor specializes in bladder conditions and other urinary tract issues. They will review your tests and request additional testing, especially if you’re experiencing bladder cancer symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of bladder cancer include pain or burning during urination, feeling like you need to use the bathroom immediately after urinating, and frequent urination.

Some of the tests to find the cause of your bladder symptoms include:

  • A urine culture involves analyzing a urine sample in a lab to see if bacteria will grow. If it does, the urinary symptoms could be related to an infection rather than cancer.
  • A urine cytology test involves examining urine under a microscope to check for any cancerous or precancerous cells.
  • Urine tumor marker tests look for specific substances that bladder cancer cells produce. For more accurate results, this test is often done along with a urine cytology test. 
  • Cystoscopy involves using a cystoscope, a thin tube with a light, and a camera on the end. It allows the doctor to look inside the bladder and urethra to look for any tumors that may be developing.
  • Ultrasound images can detect a tumor in or on the bladder. If your cystoscopy shows something suspicious, your urologist may recommend an ultrasound next.

Can You Test Your Urine at Home?

Advancements in technology have made it possible to take a urine test at home. An at-home test can be helpful for those who find it difficult to take a urine test in an office or who cannot easily get to a lab or doctor’s office. 

However, not all at-home urine tests check specifically for bladder cancer. Your primary care physician or urologist will need to order one that’s specifically created to look for bladder cancer cells if that is a possible cause of your symptoms. 

One at-home test that can rule out bladder cancer is Cxbladder. This test uses genomic biomarkers to look for signs of urothelial cancer, the most common type of bladder cancer. There are also several other urine tests that look for other signs of bladder cancer.

If you perform an at-home urine test, here are a few things to remember: 

  • Drink a normal amount of fluids. Drinking too much water before a test could dilute the urine and affect the results. 
  • Check the test kit's contents to ensure no items are damaged or missing. 
  • Follow the instructions carefully to avoid confusion or wasting tests. 
  • Collect a clean urine sample. Wash your hands before and after you collect the sample to prevent bacteria and other substances from contaminating it.
  • Return the sample as quickly as possible.  

The lab will conduct three evaluations on your sample: 

  • A visual exam to check the appearance of the urine
  • A dipstick test, where a thin, plastic stick coated in chemicals is placed in the urine to check for levels of certain substances
  • A microscopic exam, which involves looking at the urine under a microscope to find any abnormalities

Screening for Bladder Cancer

There is no official screening recommendation for bladder cancer. That’s why it’s important to start asking questions and running some tests if you notice symptoms such as blood in the urine, changes in bathroom habits, or irritation when urinating. Don’t delay talking to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms.

If Test Results Shows Signs of Bladder Cancer, What’s Next?

If the test results show signs of bladder cancer, the next step is to take samples of the tissue to see if cancer is present. This is called a biopsy.

For bladder cancer, this biopsy procedure is called transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) or transurethral resection (TUR). In this procedure, the doctor uses a tool with a camera on the end. Inserted through the urethra, the urologist removes some cells in the tumor and around the bladder muscle. A few different samples are taken from different regions of the bladder.

The biopsy samples are sent to a pathologist, who analyzes the cells to see if cancer is present. If there is cancer in the samples, your urologist will recommend you consult with a cancer specialist, called an oncologist. 

Don’t delay scheduling an appointment with the oncologist. The earlier you can diagnose and treat bladder cancer, the better the outcome will be. Before treatment begins, the oncologist may need to conduct additional tests, such as a PET scan, MRI, or CT scan, to see how deep the cancer has grown in the bladder wall and to find out if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. 

Based on the type of bladder cancer and the extent it has grown, a medical oncologist will be the leader in determining the best treatment plan. 

Bladder Cancer Specialists in Colorado

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, the experts at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers are here to help. Request a consultation at one of our locations throughout Colorado's Front Range, including the Denver area, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Pueblo. We are also available to provide second opinions on a diagnosis and treatment plan for bladder cancer.