Bladder Cancer and Radiation Therapy

Radiation uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. External beam radiation is emitted from a machine outside the body and internal radiation is emitted from radioactive "seeds" implanted into the tumor. Either type of radiation therapy may be used after surgery to destroy cancer cells that may remain. Radiation therapy is also used to relieve symptoms (called palliative treatment) of advanced bladder.

Side effects of radiation therapy for bladder cancer include inflammation of the rectum (proctitis), incontinence, skin irritation, hematuria, fibrosis (buildup of fibrous tissue), and impotence (erectile dysfunction).

Immunotherapy to Treat Bladder Cancer

Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, may be used in some cases of superficial bladder cancer. This treatment is used to enhance the immune system's ability to fight disease. A vaccine derived from the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (BCG) is infused through the urethra into the bladder, once a week for 6 weeks to stimulate the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Sometimes BCG is used with interferon.

Side effects include inflammation of the bladder (cystitis), inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis), and flu-like symptoms. High fever (over 101.5°F) may indicate that the bacteria have entered the bloodstream (called bacteremia). This condition is life threatening and requires antibiotic treatment. Immunotherapy is not used in patients with gross hematuria (visible blood in urine).

Photodynamic therapy is a new treatment for early bladder cancer. It involves administering drugs to make cancer cells more sensitive to light and then shining a special light onto the bladder. This treatment is being studied in clinical trials.

Bladder Cancer Follow-Up

Bladder cancer has a high rate of recurrence. Urine cytology and cystoscopy are performed every 3 months for 2 years, every 6 months for the next 2 years, and then yearly.

Publication Review By: Richard Levin, M.D., F.A.C.S., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 02 Sep 2015