What Is Transitional Cell Cancer?

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  • Written By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 26 December 2019
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Transitional cells are found in the ureter, the bladder, and other parts of the urinary tract. These are cells that are able to stretch and shrink as needed, to accommodate the swelling and shrinking of the bladder as it fills with urine and is emptied. Cancer that develops in these special cells is called transitional cell cancer.

This type of cancer is not common in people under 40, but the risk of getting transitional cell cancer increases with age after that point. Other risk factors include being white and being male, as both of these groups experience a higher rate of transitional cell cancer, particularly in the bladder, than do other groups. People who have had chronic bladder inflammation also have higher rates of transitional cell cancer, as do people who have previously been treated with certain types of chemotherapy drugs and people who have a history of cancer in the family. This type of bladder cancer occurs more often than any other bladder cancer in the United States.


A diagnosis of transitional cell cancer is made through the use of a combination of tests including urine cytology, where a urine sample is examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells, a physical inspection of the bladder, and a biopsy, which involves the collection of a sample of the bladder lining for laboratory testing. These tests may be combined with a computerized tomography (CT) scan or x-ray procedures where dye is used to highlight the various organs of the urinary system. Once transitional cell cancer is confirmed, the doctor will determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

The specific treatment used depends on how far the cancer has progressed. Very early transitional cell cancer, that which has not yet gone beyond the bladder walls, may be treated by a transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) operation. This procedure involves the insertion of a wire loop into the bladder through the urethra, then using electricity or a laser to burn away the cancer cells.

If the cancer is in additional layers of the bladder, surgery to remove any tumors plus part of the bladder is required. In extreme cases the entire bladder may be removed, along with nearby lymph nodes and the reproductive organs. Complete or partial removal of the bladder and other organs is followed by biotherapy, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, to ensure any remaining cancer cells are destroyed, providing the best possible prognosis for the patient.



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