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Treating bladder cancer

Bladder cancer can be treated several ways. Your doctor can help you decide on the best approach for you.

When you learn you have bladder cancer, you have a lot to think about, including the best way to treat or manage the disease.

You may feel like you have to make decisions quickly. But give yourself time to absorb the information. Write down your questions, and talk to your doctor.

The American Cancer Society outlines these four types of treatment for bladder cancer:

Surgery

Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT). This surgery is done through a cystoscope, a slender tube with a lens and light. The cystoscope is inserted into the bladder through the urethra, the tube that empties urine from the bladder. A wire loop or high-energy electricity is used to remove or burn away the cancer.

This operation is used most often for early stage bladder cancer.

Cystectomy. A cut is made in the abdomen to remove part or all of the bladder. In women, the uterus (womb), ovaries and fallopian tubes may also be removed. In men, the prostate may be removed during this surgery.

If the entire bladder is removed, many types of reconstructive surgery can be done. Options vary depending on a person's medical condition and preferences.

Radiation

This type of therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. It may be applied in the form of beams from outside the body focused on the cancer, or a small pellet of radioactive material placed directly into the cancer.

Radiation after surgery can kill small areas of cancer that can't be seen during surgery. Radiation may also be used before surgery to shrink the tumor.

In advanced cancer, radiation may be used to relieve pain, bleeding or blockage.

Most side effects of radiation therapy—such as tiredness or skin that looks sunburned—will shortly go away. Talk with your doctor about any side effects. There may be medications or other measures that can help ease them.

Chemotherapy

Drugs that kill cancer cells are given in the form of shots or pills. The drugs may be delivered to the bloodstream so they can reach all areas of the body, or they may be placed directly into the bladder.

Side effects depend on the types of drugs you receive and how long you take them. Most side effects go away after treatment. If you have problems with side effects, talk to your doctor.

Immunotherapy

This therapy, which is useful for treating both early stage and some advanced bladder cancers, helps the immune system to attack cancer cells.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials measure the usefulness of new treatments for people with cancer. Your doctor might suggest that you consider a clinical trial.

This does not mean you are being asked to be a human guinea pig or that your case is hopeless. A clinical trial is done only when there is reason to believe that the treatment being studied may be of value. If you decide to take part in a clinical trial, learn all you can about it. As with any treatment, there are risks as well as benefits. You can leave the clinical trial at any time.

For more information, call the National Cancer Institute at 800.4.CANCER (800.422.6237), or visit its website.

reviewed 9/11/2019

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