Bladder Cancer Treatment

With a diagnosis of bladder cancer, the first thing many patients want to know are their treatment options. Depending on the stage of cancer, the severity of the symptoms and other medical conditions, there are numerous medical treatments aimed at eradicating the disease.

Bladder cancer results from cancerous tumors inside the urinary bladder. Although doctors have yet to identify one specific factor that leads to bladder cancer, there are many risk factors, including cigarette smoking, exposure to certain workplace chemicals and chronic bladder infections. More recently, researchers have identified patients taking the type 2 diabetes drug Actos as having a 40 percent increased risk of getting bladder cancer over those taking other diabetes drugs.

Treatments for the less severe types of bladder cancer (stages 0 and I) typically involve surgery and chemical therapies. More advanced bladder cancers (stages II and above) include more involved treatments. Even though bladder cancer is known as a recurrent disease - it typically returns - researchers have recognized certain treatments that are better others.

Bladder Cancer Surgery

There are several types of bladder cancer surgeries that can be done. In less severe cases, tumors are removed through the urethra under local anesthesia. The process, called a transurethral bladder resection, involves using a laser or electric current to remove the tumors. In more severe cases, all or part of the urinary bladder is removed. In men, the surgery includes removal of the bladder, prostate and seminal vesicles. In women, it includes the uterus, urethra, part of the vaginal wall and the bladder. Often, bladder lymph nodes are removed as well. These patients often undergo radiation therapy and chemotherapy as well. This decreases the chance of the cancer returning. Once the bladder is removed, surgeons then typically create a new urinary collection system that is located either inside the body, called a continent urinary reservoir, or outside the body, called an ileal conduit.

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Chemotherapy for Bladder Cancer

This treatment uses specialized medicines to kill cancer cells. For bladder cancer treatment, chemotherapy involves more than one drug in combination. It is given through the vein, called intravenously, or directly into the bladder, called intravesical therapy. The mixture of chemotherapy drugs given and the way it is delivered depends on the severity of the case and how the body responds. Chemotherapy drugs are considered effective because they are absorbed into cancer cells at a higher rate than absorption into normal cells. This allows the drug to kill off cancer cells and not normal cells.

Bladder Cancer Radiation Therapy

Often given in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation treatment uses high-dose radiation beams to destroy cancer cells. It is also used alone to kill cancer cells or before or after bladder-cancer surgery. For intensive radiation treatment, patients receive external radiation, which directs precise beams of radiation to exact locations on the bladder.

Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) Treatments

Sometimes used as a vaccine against tuberculosis, BCG is the most commonly prescribed immunotherapeutic agent used in bladder cancer. It boosts or restores your natural defenses against the disease. BCG, which is derived from an inactive genetically engineered bacterium, has been most successfully used to prevent the recurrence of bladder cancer. BCG is given through a catheter directly into the bladder once a week for six weeks and can be used in conjunction with surgery.