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Bladder Cancer: Treatment Choices

Bladder cancer can be treated. Your healthcare provider’s recommendations for your treatment depend on these factors:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Type of bladder cancer you have

  • Size and location of the tumor

  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body

  • Grade and stage of the cancer

  • Your tolerance of medicines, procedures, or other treatments

  • How he or she expects your cancer to progress

  • Your opinion or preference

You’ll work with your cancer care team to decide on a treatment plan once you know the type and stage of bladder cancer you have. Talking about your treatment choices will be one of the most important meetings you’ll have with your healthcare provider.

It may take time to choose the best treatment plan. Ask your healthcare provider how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get a second opinion from another healthcare provider before deciding on treatments. You may also want to talk with your family and friends. In fact, it’s helpful to bring loved ones with you to checkups. This can help you deal with the medical information and remember all of your questions. In addition, a written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions.

Understanding the goals of treatment for bladder cancer

Treatment for bladder cancer may have one or more of the following goals. Be sure you understand the goals of your treatment before it starts: 

  • Remove or kill the cancer cells as quickly as possible.

  • Kill any cells that may have spread.

  • Prevent or delay the cancer from coming back.

  • Slow the growth of cancer and treat symptoms when the cancer can't be cured.

  • Have as few side effects from the treatment as possible, and minimize the ones that do occur.

Types of treatment for bladder cancer

Several types of treatment may be used for bladder cancer. Sometimes more than one of these treatments may be used. Getting 2 or more treatments is called combination treatment: 


This is a common treatment for bladder cancer. You’ll likely need to stay in the hospital for surgery. You’ll also be sedated with anesthesia. There are several types of surgery. The kind your healthcare provider suggests depends on the stage of the bladder cancer. In some cases, the surgeon takes out only the tumor, or tumors, if there are more than 1. Other times, part of the bladder may be removed. In some cases, the whole bladder is taken out. Sometimes surgery cures the cancer.

Intravesical therapy

This treatment is used with early-stage, superficial bladder cancer. In it, medicines are put directly into your bladder. This may be immunotherapy medicines, which make your body’s immune system fight the cancer, or chemotherapy medicines.   

Chemotherapy (chemo)

Chemo uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. This treatment can be given either alone or with radiation. It may be given before or after surgery. It’s often used when bladder cancer has spread to other parts of your body. The kind of chemo you receive depends on the type of bladder cancer. It may be given internally by putting the medicines directly in your bladder. This is called intravesical chemotherapy. It may also be given into your blood steam. This is done to kill cancer cells throughout your body.

Radiation treatment

Radiation uses high-energy rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. Internal or external radiation, or both, may be used to treat bladder cancer. With internal radiation, a radiation implant is placed into your bladder for a direct effect on cancer cells. External radiation uses a machine outside the body to direct rays at a broader area. Radiation can be given alone or with chemo. Radiation with chemo can cure some people and leave them with a bladder that still works. This treatment can also be given after surgery to help destroy cancer cells that may still be in the body.

Working with your healthcare provider

Sometimes new treatments are available in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies used to evaluate new treatments. You can ask your healthcare provider about clinical trials.

Some people use complementary treatments. That means they get standard cancer treatment, such as surgery or chemo, along with other supportive ones, such as yoga or changes to their diet. You may want to talk about this option with your healthcare provider.




Online Medical Reviewer: Levin, Mark, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.