The aim of this paper was to conduct a critical systematic review of the available literature on the clinical and economic burden of bladder cancer in developed countries, with a focus on the cost effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing that burden.Forty-four economic studies were included in the review. Because of long- term survival and the need for lifelong routine monitoring and treatment, the cost per patient of bladder cancer from diagnosis to death is the highest of all cancers, ranging from 96000-187000 US dollars (2001 values) in the US. Overall, bladder cancer is the fifth most expensive cancer in terms of total medical care expenditures, accounting for almost 3.7 billion US dollars (2001 values) in direct costs in the US. Screening for bladder cancer in the general population is currently not recommended. The economic value of relatively new and less expensive urine assays and molecular urinary tumour markers has not been assessed. However, the literature suggests that screening patients suspected of having bladder cancer and using less invasive diagnostic procedures is cost effective. Very few cost-effectiveness studies have evaluated intravesical therapies such as bacillus Calmette-Guérin and mitomycin in the management of superficial disease and no robust recommendations can be drawn. Economic analyses suggest that non-surgical treatment strategies for the management of invasive disease aiming at bladder preservation may not be cost effective, because they have not consistently demonstrated survival benefits and do not eliminate the need for subsequent radical cystectomy. The literature suggests that the current conventional frequent follow-up and monitoring of patients can be cost effectively replaced by less frequent and less invasive monitoring, and should rely more heavily on intravesical chemotherapy to reduce the need for cystoscopies. Bladder cancer is a fairly common and costly malignancy. Nevertheless, the existing literature only contributes marginally to our knowledge concerning the burden of bladder cancer and the economic value of various interventions. The limited value of the literature in this area may be attributed to (i) being published as abstracts rather than full peer-reviewed evaluations; (ii) employing questionable methodologies; and (iii) being in many cases nearly obsolete, rendering them less relevant to, if not in conflict with, current clinical practice. Consequently, opportunities exist to conduct meaningful economic research in all areas of the management of bladder cancer, including screening, diagnosis, follow-up and treatment, especially with respect to new and innovative pharmaceutical and other technologies.