Doctors have a few different options for treating bladder cancer. Different stages of the disease are treated in different ways. Each case must be individually considered, taking into account the location of the cancer, how far it has spread, age, and general health of the patient. The most common approaches include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and biological therapy.
When the cancer growth is small, and not growing into the walls of the bladder, a surgical procedure called a transurethral resection, or TUR, is often recommended. With this procedure, a physician inserts a wire loop into the bladder. The loop contains an electric current or a laser that burns off the cancer cells.
When bladder cancer is more advanced and growing into the wall of the bladder, a more involved surgery is needed. A partial cystectomy removes the tumor along with a small portion of the bladder. In order for this type of surgery to be an option, the cancer has to be confined to a small area of the bladder that can be removed without having an adverse effect on normal bladder function.
In more advanced cases, where the cancer has invaded the deeper tissues of the bladder, the entire organ may need to be removed. This procedure is called a radical cystectomy. This surgery typically involves removing the lymph nodes, prostate, seminal vesicles, ovaries, uterus, and a portion of the vagina.
When the bladder is removed, it is necessary to surgically reconstruct a bladder and tube for urine removal. These are usually made from pieces of intestine. If only a tube is constructed, it will lead to a bag worn outside the body that must be emptied periodically. In some cases, a urine reservoir can be created and placed inside the body to act as a replacement bladder. These need to be drained with a catheter at regular intervals.
Chemotherapy is sometimes used along with surgery when treating bladder cancer. Typically, two drugs are given that work to kill cancer cells in the body. If given before surgery, chemotherapy may shrink the tumor, so a less invasive procedure will be needed. When given after surgery, it is used to kill cancer cells that were left behind.
Radiation is used at times, with or without chemotherapy, but its use is infrequent in the treatment of bladder cancer. Its purpose is to kill cancer cells left in the body after surgery.
Biological therapy is also called immunotherapy, and this cancer treatment triggers the body’s immune system to work harder to kill cancer cells. When used to treat bladder cancer, the drugs are usually inserted directly into the bladder. Two of the biological agents used in treating bladder cancer include an immune-stimulating bacterium that is normally used in TB vaccines, and interferons, which are proteins that fight infections.
Part of a successful treatment plan for bladder cancer includes medical monitoring and lifestyle changes in order to prevent a recurrence, or to catch it early if the cancer returns. Regular medical checkups are recommended as well as adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet.