Alternative Treatments for Bladder Cancer
Cancer occurs in various stages, and as it moves from one stage to another, it gets worse. Therefore, as the condition progresses, more effective methods of treatment have to be applied. At times, even two treatment methods can be applied together.
In determining the stage of bladder cancer, the following factors are considered:
- How deep has it grown into the bladder wall?
- Has it spread beyond the bladder?
- What is the size of the tumor?
These are the factors that will influence the method that will be used to treat cancer. This article will focus on some of the alternative methods that can be used to treat bladder cancer.
Available Treatment Options for a Non-Invasive Bladder Cancer
Non-invasive bladder cancer is a type of cancer that has only affected the lining of the bladder walls and has not yet spread to the other parts of the body. Most people with bladder cancer get diagnosed in this stage.
1. Transurethral Resection for Bladder Tumor (TURBT) Procedure
With bladder cancer, there are several treatment options that can be carried out. It may begin with the surgical removal of the affected part of the bladder. Surgery is done using the TURBT procedure. General anesthesia is administered in this type of surgery.
During surgery, a cystoscope is used to take a look inside your bladder and then remove as much of the tumor as possible. The removed tumor will then be used to make an exact diagnosis of your condition. The surgery can be repeated after a few weeks to ensure that the whole tumor is removed. Some of the side effects of this procedure may be pain or bleeding.
However, surgery alone cannot assure the complete removal of cancer cells. Therefore, there is a need for other medical interventions or methods to improve the course of treatment. Having other types of treatments is necessary to destroy any cancer cells that may be left behind and also to reduce the chances of cancer from coming back again. The type of treatment method to be used will be based on the analysis of your TURBT results.
2. Intravesical Chemotherapy
On most occasions, chemotherapy may be administered after surgery to destroy any cancer cells left or prevent them from coming back again in the future. Intravesical chemotherapy will most likely be used. This type of therapy involves a direct administration of chemo drugs into the bladder. The drug comes into direct contact with the cancer cells, thus, destroying them.
The advantage of this method is that the drug does not get into your blood system. Therefore, it does not affect the other cells of the body that divide quickly. The drug works by specifically attacking the cells that quickly multiply. The drug's mechanism will save you from experiencing some side effects such as:
- loss of hair
- fatigue due to reduced red blood cells (RBCs)
- bleeding even from minor cuts due to reduced platelets
- risks of infection due to the decreased number of white blood cells (WBCs)
3. The BCG Treatment
BCG stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guerin. This type of treatment is an option for an aggressive, non-invasive bladder cancer. The BCG medication is put into your bladder using a catheter. It works by encouraging the immune system of the body to kill any remaining cancer cells. The treatment lasts for a few weeks. Its side effects can be mild in some people but severe in others. However, the good thing is that its side effects do not last for long.
Treatment Options for an Invasive Bladder Cancer
This type of bladder cancer has spread from the bladder to its surrounding tissues or parts. It can affect the muscle of your bladder or the surrounding lymph tissues or organs. The two most used treatment methods for this condition include radiotherapy and the surgical removal of the bladder.
Most of the time, the two treatment options provide equal chances of recovery and you may find yourself being given an option of picking either of them. First, let’s have a look at each treatment:
1. Radical Cystectomy (RC)
Radical cystectomy is a major surgical operation that usually lasts for several hours. During surgery, the bladder is removed together with the lymph nodes around it, a section of the urethra, prostate in men, and the cervix and womb in women.
Because of the removal of the bladder, you may have to get an alternative method to remove urine from your body. Other methods can come in the form of the following:
- urostomy (the urine will be directed away from the bladder)
- bladder reconstruction surgery
- continent urinary diversion
This therapy involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. Its advantage is that you do not get to lose your bladder. Radiotherapy sessions are done on a daily basis and will usually last for four to seven weeks. A session may last between ten to fifteen minutes.
Radiotherapy may be used as a primary treatment in patients whose health is not so good. In other cases, it can be used as a secondary treatment or together with another treatment such as chemotherapy.
This type of treatment also has side effects. They are as a result of the radiation, destroying healthy cells. The side effects may include:
- becoming infertile
- hair loss in the pubic region
- an increased frequency in passing out urine
- pain during urination (as a result of bladder inflammation)
- erectile dysfunction in men
- the vagina becoming tighter in women
Aside from infertility, the other side effects will disappear after some time once the treatment is over.
3. Systemic Chemotherapy
This type of chemotherapy is usually used to treat an invasive bladder cancer. It can be administered through pills or through injections of the chemo drugs in the vein. This treatment can be done for the following reasons:
- to shrink large tumors before the surgical removal of the tumor or before a radiotherapy treatment starts
- to reduce the spread of bladder cancer if it's incurable
- used in combination with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) before the surgical removal of a tumor
The side effects of systemic chemotherapy include:
- loss of hair
- loss of appetite
- a feeling of sickness
- being fatigued
There is an increased chance of infection as chemotherapy weakens your immune system. You should, therefore, be alert and if you develop any signs or symptoms of an infection, make sure you report it to your doctor immediately. The side effects should wear out once the treatment stops.
The Bottom Line
The treatment of bladder cancer is dependent on its stage. Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment options based on your diagnosis. It is important that you discuss the available treatment options in order to understand them, especially if you have to make one or more choices among them.
Make sure that you understand the treatment's advantages, risks, and side effects. Being aware of them will help you in making informed choices. As you undergo treatments, always make sure that you are in constant communication with the doctors. You should also go for regular screenings and check-ups to keep track of your progress. Inform your doctor if ever you will experience any discomforts, illnesses, and symptoms while undergoing treatment.