The bladder is a hollow, muscular organ which is located in the pelvis. It stores urine until it is voided from the body. There are several types of tumour to affect the bladder (and urethra), with the most common being transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). Other types of bladder tumour include benign mesenchymal tumours, squamous cell carcinoma, rhabdomyosarcoma and lymphoma.
The exact aetiology is unknown, in humans, bladder cancer is higher in people working in chemical industries and it is speculated that chemicals used to treat fleas and ticks in cats (and dogs) may increase the risk of cancer, along with environmental pollutants and insecticides. Obesity is another factor, the theory being that the fat stores these chemicals, which are slowly excreted in the urine.
The average age of cats to develop bladder cancer is 8-9 years. Bladder cancers are often quick to spread to other parts of the body, and therefore it is crucial that an early diagnosis is made to increase your cat’s chances of survival.
If the cancer has spread, other symptoms may present depending on the location, this can include coughing (if spread to lungs), limping (if bones are effected) etc.
How is bladder cancer diagnosed?
Symptoms of bladder cancer are very similar to other disorders of the urinary tract such as cystitis, urinary crystals/stones and urinary tract infection. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat, including a rectal exam.
He will need to run some diagnostic tests to determine the cause, he will also obtain a medical history from you including symptoms you have noticed, and how long symptoms have been present. Tests may include:
Urinalysis – To check for tumour cells and infection, which can often run concurrently with bladder cancer.
Biochemical profile – To evaluate your cat’s overall health.
Ultrasound or x-ray to evaluate for tumours and check regional lymph nodes. A chest x-ray may also be performed to check for signs of metastases.
Contrast x-ray to evaluate the extent of the tumours.
Veterinary bladder tumour antigen test (V-BTA) – This is a test which checks the urine for the presence of antibodies for tumour antigens.
Cystoscopy – A flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the urethra so that the bladder can be visualised. A tissue sample may be taken at this time which will provide a definitive diagnosis of bladder cancer.
How is bladder cancer treated?
If your cat has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist centre for treatment.
If the tumour is small and in a favourable location, it will be surgically removed.
Laser therapy – This may be used to remove or debulk (reduce the size of) the tumour.
Chemotherapy may be recommended although it doesn’t have a great success rate in treating bladder cancers in cats.
The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug piroxicam (Feldene), has been shown to shrink and/or inhibit the growth of bladder tumours.