People with bladder cancer have many treatment options, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or biological therapy. Some patients may receive a combination of therapies.
Surgery is a common treatment for bladder cancer. The type of surgery depends largely on the stage and grade of the tumor. Your doctor can explain each type of surgery and discuss which is most suitable for you.
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Like surgery, radiation therapy is local therapy. It affects cancer cells only in the treated area. A small number of patients may have radiation therapy before surgery to shrink the tumor. Others may have it after surgery to kill cancer cells that may remain in the area. Sometimes, patients who cannot have surgery have radiation therapy instead.
Doctors use external radiation therapy to treat bladder cancer. A large machine outside the body aims radiation at the tumor area. Most people receiving external radiation are treated five days a week for five to seven weeks as an outpatient. This schedule helps protect healthy cells and tissues by spreading out the total dose of radiation.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Your doctor may use one drug or a combination of drugs.
If you have superficial bladder cancer, your doctor may use intravesical chemotherapy after removing the cancer with TUR. This is local therapy. A tube or catheter is inserted through the urethra and puts liquid drugs in the bladder. The drugs remain in the bladder for several hours. They mainly affect cells in the bladder. Usually, patients have this treatment once a week for several weeks. Sometimes, treatments continue once or several times a month for up to a year.
If the cancer has deeply invaded the bladder or spread to lymph nodes or other organs, your doctor may give drugs through a vein. This treatment is called intravenous chemotherapy. It is systemic therapy, meaning that the drugs flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body. The drugs are usually given in cycles so that a recovery period follows every treatment period.
You may have chemotherapy alone or combined with surgery, radiation therapy or both. Usually chemotherapy is an outpatient treatment given at the hospital, clinic or at your doctor's office. Depending on which drugs are given and your general health, you may need a short hospital stay.
Biological therapy, also called immunotherapy, uses the body's natural ability or immune system to fight cancer. Biological therapy is most often used after TUR for superficial bladder cancer. Drugs are delivered directly into the bladder using a catheter. This helps prevent the cancer from coming back.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.