Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh Fighting Bladder Cancer

This is the bassist’s second bout with cancer.

Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, 75, has been forced to cancel several concerts. As reported in Rolling Stone, Lesh announced:

"I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in early October [2015], and have spent the last few weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale doing tests and eventually surgery to remove the tumors."

Fortunately, a pathology report on the tumors shows that they are all "non-aggressive" and there is no indication that they have spread.

Lesh is one of the founding members of the classic rock band the Grateful Dead and played with them throughout their 30-year career. When the band broke up in the 1990s, Lesh began his own group, Phil & Friends.

This is not Lesh’s first run-in with serious medical issues. In 1998, he underwent a liver transplant as a result of complications of hepatitis C. In 2006, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease that killed his father. The tumor was found early and was successfully removed.

Some Bladder Anatomy

The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower abdomen. It stores urine, the liquid waste produced by the kidneys. Urine passes from each kidney into the bladder through a tube called a ureter.

An outer layer of muscle surrounds the inner lining of the bladder. When the bladder is full, the muscles in the bladder wall can tighten to allow urination. Urine leaves the bladder through another tube, the urethra.
The wall of the bladder has three layers:

  1. The innermost layer of tissue, the lining is made up of cells called transitional epithelium. As your bladder fills up with urine, these transitional cells stretch. When you empty your bladder, these cells shrink.
  2. The middle layer is a layer of muscle tissue. The muscle fibers run in different directions around the bladder. When you empty your bladder, the muscle layers in the bladder wall squeezes the urine out of your body.
  3. The outermost layer covers the bladder. It has fat, fibrous tissue, and blood vessels.

Bladder Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, bladder cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in the United States. It is estimated that in 2015, 74,000 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer, and 16,000 will die of the disease.

There are three types of bladder cancer that begin in cells in the lining of the bladder. These cancers are named for the type of cells that become malignant:

  • Transitional cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins in cells in the innermost tissue layer of the bladder. These cells are able to stretch when the bladder is full and shrink when it is emptied. Most bladder cancers begin in transitional cells.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that may form in the bladder after a long-term infection or irritation.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells that may form in the bladder after a long-term inflammation or irritation.

Cancer that is in the lining of the bladder is called superficial bladder cancer. Cancer that has spread through the lining of the bladder and invades the muscle wall of the bladder or has spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes is called invasive bladder cancer.

Symptoms of bladder cancer may include:

  • blood in the urine (hematuria);
  • pain during urination (dysuria);
  • frequent urination in small amounts; or
  • feeling that one needs to urinate without results.

These signs and symptoms are not specific to bladder cancer, however, and a physician should be consulted by anyone with these symptoms.

Who Is at Risk for Bladder Cancer?

Studies have found the following risk factors for bladder cancer:

  • Age: The chance of getting bladder cancer goes up as people get older. People under 40 rarely get this disease.
  • Tobacco: Cigarette smokers are two to three times more likely than nonsmokers to get bladder cancer. Pipe and cigar smokers are also at increased risk.
  • Occupation. Some workers have a higher risk of getting bladder cancer because of carcinogens in the workplace. Workers in the rubber, chemical, and leather industries are at risk. So are hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, printers, painters, textile workers, and truck drivers.
  • Infections. Being infected with certain parasites increases the risk of bladder cancer. These parasites are common in tropical areas but not in the United States.
  • Treatment with cyclophosphamide or arsenic. These drugs are used to treat cancer and some other conditions. They raise the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Race. Whites get bladder cancer twice as often as African Americans and Hispanics. The lowest rates are among Asians.
  • Being a man. Men are two to three times more likely than women to get bladder cancer.
  • Family history. People with family members who have bladder cancer are more likely to get the disease. Researchers are studying changes in certain genes that may increase the risk of bladder cancer.
  • Personal history of bladder cancer. People who have had bladder cancer have an increased chance of getting the disease again.


Celebrity Diagnosis: Teachable Moments in Cancer is produced by Celebrity Diagnosis LLC to raise awareness and knowledge of health and medical issues. The information on the subjects of these articles is derived from public news sources. Celebrity Diagnosis LLC and its employees are not involved in the care of any of the subjects nor do they have access to, or knowledge of, the subjects' medical records or personal health information. Celebrity Diagnosis LLC is solely responsible for the contents of these articles.​​

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is a 501c3 registered nonprofit organization with offices at 615 Chestnut Street, 17th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215.440.9300