Diagnosing bladder cancer

Many patients with a history, signs, and symptoms suspicious for bladder cancer are referred to a urologist or other physician trained in cystoscopy, a procedure in which a flexible tube bearing a camera and various instruments is introduced into the bladder through the urethra. Suspicious lesions may be biopsied and sent for pathologic analysis.

The gold standard for diagnosing bladder cancer is biopsy obtained during cystoscopy. Sometimes it is an incidental finding during cystoscopy. Urine cytology can be obtained in voided urine or at the time of the cystoscopy (“bladder washing”). Cytology is not very sensitive (a negative result cannot reliably exclude bladder cancer). There are newer non-invasive urine bound markers available as aids in the diagnosis of bladder cancer, including human complement factor H-related protein, high-molecular-weight carcinoembryonic antigen, and nuclear matrix protein 22 (NMP22). NMP22 is also available as a prescription home test. Other non-invasive urine based tests include the CertNDx Bladder Cancer Assay, which combines FGFR3 mutation detection with protein and DNA methylation markers to detect cancers across stage and grade, UroVysion, and Cxbladder.

The diagnosing of bladder cancer can also be done with a Hexvix/Cysview guided fluorescence cystoscopy (blue light cystoscopy, Photodynamic diagnosis), as an adjunct to conventional white-light cystoscopy. This procedure improves the detection of bladder cancer and reduces the rate of early tumor recurrence, compared with white light cystoscopy alone. Cysview cystoscopy detects more cancer and reduce recurrency. Cysview is marketed in Europe under the brand name Hexvix.

However, visual detection in any form listed above, is not sufficient for establishing pathological classification, cell type or the stage of the present tumor. A so-called cold cup biopsy during an ordinary cystoscopy (rigid or flexible) will not be sufficient for pathological staging either. Hence, a visual detection needs to be followed by transurethral surgery. The procedure is called transurethral resection (TUR). Further, bimanual examination should be carried out before and after the TUR to assess whether there is a palpable mass or if the tumour is fixed (“tethered”) to the pelvic wall. The pathological classification obtained by the TUR-procedure, is of fundamental importance for making the appropriate choice of ensuing treatment and/or follow-up routines.