Healthy Living

What Procedures Are Used to Treat Bladder Cancer?

What Procedures Are Used to Treat Bladder Cancer?

Key Takeaways

  • Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Cystectomy is the partial or complete removal of the bladder through surgery.
  • Immunotherapy involves helping the body's immune system destroy the cancer cells.

There are various treatment options for bladder cancer. Each option has its own procedure on how it is carried out. The type of treatment is also chosen based on several factors such as:

  • Is your bladder cancer invasive (spread beyond the bladder) or non-invasive? 
  • What is the size of the tumor?
  • At what stage is your cancer?
  • Your overall health condition.

The treatment of cancer normally involves more than one doctor. It takes the combined effort of various medical professionals to deal with your condition. A team of health care practitioners is usually referred to as a multidisciplinary team and may consist of the following experts:

  1. Urologist - a physician who deals with male and female urinary tract diseases.
  2. Urologic oncologist - is a doctor who specializes in malignant genitourinary (genital and urinary) diseases.
  3. Oncology nurses - are nurses who specially provide care for patients with cancer.
  4. Counselors - are trained professionals who help people cope with their cancer diagnosis by providing education and counseling.
  5. Dietitians - help people who are diagnosed with cancer to follow a healthy dietary guideline.

The Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

The signs and symptoms of bladder cancer are somewhat similar to other urinary tract infections. For this reason, it is better for you to consult a doctor to have a confirmed diagnosis. The usual symptoms of bladder cancer include: 

  • the presence of blood in your urine (hematuria)
  • painful urination
  • having a frequent urge to urinate 
  • small amounts of urine
  • getting an urge to pass urine but nothing comes out
  • increased urinary tract infections

What treatment options are available for bladder cancer?

TURBT Procedure

TURBT stands for "transurethral resection for bladder tumor." It is a surgical procedure used for the removal of bladder tumors. 

A patient is usually given a general anesthesia before the procedure is carried out. The surgeon then places a cystoscope in the bladder and may use laser, fulguration, or a small looped wire to remove the tumor. Part of the lymph nodes around the bladder may also be removed to check for the presence of cancer cells.

However, this treatment method has to be reinforced with other treatment options such as radiation, chemotherapy, or BCG treatments to ensure that your cancer will not recur. Once the stage of the cancer is diagnosed, then the choice of treatment can be made.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to destroy the cancer cells. Cancer cells are cells that divide and multiply in an increasingly abnormal manner. The chemo drugs will attack and destroy such cells that divide quickly.

There are two ways of how chemotherapy can be administered:

  • Through pills or injections into the vein (systemic chemotherapy)
  • By direct administration of the drug to the bladder (intravesical chemotherapy)

1. Systemic Chemotherapy

In this type of chemotherapy, people with bladder cancer may be prescribed with some medications that they will take orally in pill form. Chemotherapy drugs can also be given in the form of an injection to the vein. The injected drug gets into your bloodstream and flows throughout your body. It will then proceed to destroy any cancer cells present.

Systemic chemotherapy is mostly used in cases of an invasive bladder cancer, where cancer has already spread to other organs of the body. The side effects of this treatment are as a result of the drugs attacking other normal healthy body cells such as those in the bone marrow, hair follicles, and intestines.

The side effects include:

  • loss of hair
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • an increased risk of infection when white blood cells (WBCs) get destroyed
  • fatigue due to the reduced number of red blood cells

The side effects should clear up as soon as the treatment is over.

2. Intravesical Chemotherapy

This type of chemotherapy involves putting the chemo drugs directly into the bladder by using a catheter. The patient then waits for at least an hour before passing urine. An intravesical chemotherapy gives the drugs time to work.

This method is mostly preferred because the drug does not get into the bloodstream. Therefore, it does not cause side effects such as those experienced in a systemic chemotherapy. People with bladder cancer who will undergo this treatment should avoid taking fluids before their chemotherapy to avoid having a full bladder. Those people taking diuretics should take them after the treatment.

The side effect of this treatment is that sometimes, it can cause a bladder inflammation. However, the inflammation usually fades with time. To reduce this side effect, drink plenty of fluids after the treatment.

It is important to note that chemotherapy, sometimes in combination with radiation treatment, can be given before the surgical removal of a tumor. This treatment plan takes place in cases where the tumor is large and the surgeon aims to reduce its size before its removal. This treatment is also usually done after a surgery so as to wipe out any traces of the cancer tissue left behind, preventing any chances of cancer from coming back again.

Cystectomy

Cystectomy is the partial or complete removal of the bladder through surgery. A partial cystectomy is done when the tumor has affected only a part of the bladder. The tumor is removed together with that part of the bladder and the hole is then sealed.

Radical cystectomy, on the other hand, involves the complete removal of the bladder together with its surrounding organs such as lymph nodes, prostate, seminal vesicles, and part of the urethra in men. In women, their womb, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, and a part of their vagina may also be removed.

A cystectomy is normally done in cases of an invasive bladder cancer, where it has spread to the surrounding tissues or organs. The removal of your bladder means that you will also have to undergo a bladder reconstructive surgery to create a way for the urine to be collected and stored.

Immunotherapy

This treatment method involves helping the immune system of the body destroy the cancer cells. On most occasions, Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) is put directly into the bladder by using a catheter. The BCG then motivates the immune system to attack the cancer cells and kill them.

The side effects of this treatment include inflammation of the bladder, fatigue, bleeding, chills, and fever. BCG can sometimes be administered together with a drug called "interferon."

Radiotherapy

In radiotherapy, radiation is used to kill the cancer cells. This procedure is done by a radiation oncologist. Radiation can be given externally through external beam radiation or through internal radiation therapy. The radiotherapy sessions usually last for 10 to 15 minutes and administered for several weeks.

This treatment method is not primarily used to treat bladder cancer but it can be used together with other treatments such as chemotherapy. The side effects of radiotherapy include:

  • hair loss in the pubic area
  • an increased frequency of urination
  • inflammation of the bladder
  • diarrhea
  • infertility

The good thing is that the side effects end as soon as the treatment is done.

The Bottom Line

The procedures for treating bladder cancer differ depending on the type of treatment you may be getting. What you need to do is to make sure that you are well-informed of the treatment methods and any other alternative options. By being aware of the type of treatments, you will have an easier time in coping with your bladder cancer.