Bladder Cancer Treatment

Urologic surgeon Bernard Bochner and a patient

We may recommend surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these to treat bladder cancer. Preserving or recreating your bladder is one of our key goals.

The overall treatment approach is guided by whether your bladder cancer has grown into the muscle or spread further. Each of these categories has its own treatment plan.

Before we recommend any treatment, you will meet with a surgeon. In most cases, you will also see a medical oncologist. This ensures that experts in both specialties thoroughly evaluate you to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Bladder Cancer Surgery

Surgery is usually the first treatment for bladder cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body. We offer many kinds of surgery for people with bladder cancer. This includes transurethral resection of the bladder tumor for early-stage disease. For more-advanced disease, we may perform a cystectomy. This is the removal of the bladder. If the bladder needs to be removed, we may be able to create a new bladder, called a neobladder, using intestinal tissue.

Learn about bladder cancer surgery at MSK.

Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Therapy for Bladder Cancer

If there is a high risk of the bladder cancer returning after surgery, we may recommend a type of immunotherapy called bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) therapy. It is given once a week for six weeks. This therapy is designed to trigger an inflammatory response in the bladder that prevents the tumor from growing. We deliver BCG therapy directly to the bladder through a tube placed in the urethra.

Learn about BCG therapy for bladder cancer at MSK.

Chemotherapy for Bladder Cancer

Chemotherapy is a drug or combination of drugs that kills cancer cells wherever they are in the body. After surgery for early-stage bladder cancer that has not grown into the muscle, we may give chemotherapy directly into the bladder through a tube placed in the urethra. For later-stage bladder cancer, we may give systemic chemotherapy. This form of chemotherapy is usually injected into a vein. The drugs circulate throughout the body and kill cancer cells wherever they are.

Learn about chemotherapy for bladder cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Radiation Therapy for Bladder Cancer

Radiation therapy may be given either before surgery to shrink the cancer or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that are left. Our doctors may recommend radiation for people having surgery to preserve their bladder. We may also use radiation in place of surgery depending on the specifics of the cancer.

Learn about radiation therapy for bladder cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer

Immunotherapy triggers the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. We give immunotherapy systemically to treat cancer that has spread. Memorial Sloan Kettering has led the way in developing immunotherapy drugs. Our doctors continue to study and investigate them in clinical trials.

Learn about immunotherapy for bladder cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Why choose Memorial Sloan Kettering for bladder cancer treatment?

  • Our multidisciplinary team is among the most experienced in the field. Our world-class experts specialize in surgery, chemotherapy, radiology, pathology, and nursing. We work closely together and meet regularly to discuss each of the people we care for. We draw on our vast experience to determine the best course of treatment.
  • Our surgeons are highly skilled at using advanced techniques that can limit side effects and speed recovery. We offer pioneering methods for preserving bladders or reconstructing bladders that are partly or wholly removed. We are experienced in doing a specialized procedure to create a new bladder, called a neobladder. This innovative approach has greatly enhanced quality of life for many people with bladder cancer. It often eliminates the need for a pouch outside the body to collect urine. MSK is one of only a few institutions offering robot-assisted surgery for both radical cystectomy plus neobladder reconstruction. This can reduce neobladder complications and side effects.
  • Our medical oncologists specialize in chemotherapy for bladder cancer. We carefully tailor your treatment to make sure it is as effective as possible while helping maintain your quality of life. If you require chemotherapy before surgery, we place a very high priority on making sure that it is done in about 12 weeks, with surgery four to six weeks after that. This shortened time frame has been shown to produce better results.
  • Our radiation oncologists use advanced techniques to target areas at risk. At the same time, we work to reduce radiation exposure to normal tissue. This includes delivering radiation guided by highly sophisticated imaging approaches that are not available at most institutions.
  • We offer access to clinical trials that are investigating new and improved treatments for bladder cancer. Sometimes these studies offer therapies years before they are available anywhere else. This includes new immunotherapy approaches that have proven very effective in select people with advanced bladder cancer.
  • We focus on all aspects of comprehensive cancer care, not just treating the disease. For example, if part of the surgery involves creating a stoma (an artificial opening in the abdomen to divert urine), our highly specialized nurses will provide expert support throughout recovery. Our specialists in supportive care can help with the side effects of therapy. These include pain, nausea, and fatigue. We can also help with the emotional and spiritual needs that often come up during and after cancer treatment.