Bladder Cancer Treatments: What to Know

If you have bladder cancer, there are several available treatment options. Your doctor will help you decide which treatment is best for you and this will depend on a number of things. These include your age, how much the cancer has spread (doctors call this your cancer “stage”), and any other health conditions you have.

Surgery

Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) is the most common surgery for bladder cancer that’s in the early stages. This procedure is done in a hospital, but you should be able to go home the same day or the next.

Your doctor will put an instrument called a resectoscope into your bladder through your urethra. That’s the tube that urine flows through when you go to the bathroom. The resectoscope has a wire loop at the end. Your doctor will use it to remove abnormal tissues or tumors. If you still have cancer after the tumor is removed, your doctor can destroy it using a laser and another tool called a cystoscope.

Cystectomy

In this type of surgery, your doctor removes part of your bladder (a partial cystectomy) or all of it (a radical cystectomy).

If cancer has spread to the muscle layer of your bladder and is still small, your doctor may be able to perform a partial cystectomy. But most people who have cancer that has grown into the muscle of the bladder will need a more extensive surgery instead.

If the cancer is large or has spread to more than one part of your bladder, your doctor will likely remove the entire organ and the nearby lymph nodes. This is a radical cystectomy.

For both of these procedures, you’ll be given medication so that you won’t be awake. You may have to stay in the hospital for up to a week afterward. Usually, you can go back to your normal routine in a few weeks.

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Intravesical therapy

This treatment is also used for early-stage cancers. Your doctor uses a catheter to inject a liquid medication right into your bladder. He’ll choose between two different types of medications -- immunotherapy or chemotherapy (“chemo”).

  • Immunotherapy. In this method, your body’s own immune system attacks the cancer cells. Your doctor will inject a germ called Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) into your bladder through a catheter. This germ is related to the one that causes tuberculosis. This draws your body’s immune cells to your bladder. There, they’re activated by the BCG and begin to fight the cancer cells. Your doctor may start this treatment a few weeks after you have a TURBT.
  • Intravesical chemotherapy (“chemo”). If your doctor and you decide on this treatment, he’ll inject cancer-fighting medications into your bladder through a catheter. The chemo works to kill the harmful cells.
  • Systemic chemo. Your doctor will give you chemo through an IV. That means the medication travels through your bloodstream to other parts of your body. It can kill cancer cells that may have spread beyond your bladder.

Radiation therapy

This treatment involves using high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It’s a lot like getting an X-ray -- only much stronger. It doesn’t hurt. You might need to get radiation 5 days a week for several weeks.

Your doctor may recommend it for one of the following reasons:

  • You have early-stage bladder cancer
  • You have early-stage cancer but can’t have surgery
  • As a follow-up to TURBT or partial bladder removal surgery
  • To prevent or treat symptoms of advanced bladder cancer
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on July 05, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “Bladder Cancer Treatment,” “Bladder Cancer Surgery,” “Radiation Therapy for Bladder Cancer.”

National Cancer Institute: “Bladder Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)” -- Patient Version.

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Bladder Cancer: Treatment Options.”

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