Bladder Cancer Treatment

Treatment for bladder cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the type of cancer, and the patient's age and overall health. Options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. In some cases, treatments are combined (e.g., surgery or radiation and chemotherapy, preoperative radiation).

Bladder Cancer Surgery

The type of surgery used to treat bladder cancer depends on the stage of the disease. In early bladder cancer, the tumor may be removed (resected) using instruments inserted through the urethra (transurethral resection).

Bladder Cancer Removal Surgery Images
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Bladder cancer that has spread to surrounding tissue (e.g., Stage T2 tumors, Stage T3a tumors) usually requires partial or radical removal of the bladder (cystectomy). Radical cystectomy also involves the removal of nearby lymph nodes and may require a urostomy (opening in the abdomen created for the discharge of urine). Complications include infection, urinary stones, and urine blockages. Newer surgical methods may eliminate the need for an external urinary appliance.

In men, the standard surgical procedure is a cystoprostatectomy (removal of the bladder and prostate) with pelvic lymphadenectomy (removal of the lymph nodes within the hip cavity). The seminal vesicles (semen-conducting tubes) also may be removed. In some cases, this can be performed in a manner that preserves sexual function.

In women with T2 to T3a tumors, the standard surgical procedure is radical cystectomy (removal of the bladder and surrounding organs) with pelvic lymphadenectomy. Radical cystectomy in women also involves removal of the uterus (womb), ovaries, fallopian tubes, anterior vaginal wall (front of the birth canal), and urethra (tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body). Recent studies have shown some support for modifying this approach to help conserve sexual function.

Segmental cystectomy (partial removal of the bladder), which is a bladder-preserving procedure, may be used in some cases (e.g., patients with squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas that arise high in the bladder dome). When segmental cystectomy is performed, it may be preceded by radiation therapy in high-risk patients.

Urinary Tract Diversion

Until recently, most bladder cancer patients who underwent cystectomy (bladder removal) required an ostomy (surgical creation of an artificial opening) and an external bag to collect urine. Newer reconstructive surgical methods include the continent urinary reservoir, the neobladder, and the ileal conduit.

The continent urinary reservoir is a urinary diversion technique that involves using a piece of the colon (large intestine) to form an internal pouch to store urine. The pouch is specially refashioned to prevent back-up of urine into the ureters (tubes that carry urine out of the kidneys and into the bladder) and kidneys. The patient drains the pouch with a catheter several times a day, and the stoma site is easily concealed by a band aid.

The neobladder procedure involves suturing a similar intestinal pouch to the urethra so the patient is able to urinate as before, without the need for a stoma. In many cases, there is no sensation to void, but some patients experience abdominal cramping as the neobladder fills.

Complications of the continent urinary reservoir and neobladder include bowel (intestine) obstruction, blood clots, pneumonia (lung inflammation), ureteral reflux (back-flow), and ureteral blockage.

The ileal conduit is a urinary channel that is surgically created from a small piece of the patient's bowel. During this procedure, the ureters are attached to one end of the bowel segment and the other end is brought out of the surface of the body to make a stoma. An external, urine-collecting bag is attached to the stoma and is worn at all times.

Complications of the ileal conduit procedure include bowel obstruction, urinary tract infection (UTI), blood clots, pneumonia, upper urinary tract damage, and skin breakdown around the stoma.

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