Bladder cancer is a common cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide in an aging population. Each year, thousands of people, mostly men, are diagnosed with this disease, but many of them present too late to receive optimal treatment. As with all cancers, early diagnosis of bladder cancer significantly improves the efficacy of therapy and increases survival and recurrence-free survival rates. Ongoing research has identified many limitations about the sensitivity of standard diagnostic procedures in detecting early-stage tumors and precancerous changes. The consequences of this are often tumor progression and increased tumor burden, leading to a decrease in patient quality of life and a vast increase in treatment costs. The necessity for improved early detection of bladder cancer has spurred on research into novel methods that use a wide range of biological and photonic phenomena. This review will broadly discuss standard detection methodologies and their major limitations before covering novel photonic techniques for early tumor detection and staging, assessing their diagnostic accuracy for flat and precancerous changes. We will do so in the context of both cystoscopic examination and the screening of voided urine and will also touch on the concept of using photonic technology as a surgical tool for tumor ablation.