Immunotherapy uses the immune system to attack cancer cells, in much the same way that it attacks bacteria or viruses. We offer bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) therapy, a more recent advance in cancer treatment.
This type of immunotherapy is used after surgery for bladder cancer that has not grown into muscle (non-muscle invasive). BCG triggers an inflammatory response in your bladder that stops the tumor from coming back.
MSK also is leading bladder cancer research on immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. This treatment can be used instead of chemotherapy for advanced bladder cancer that has spread. For people who respond to checkpoint inhibitors, the drugs can have a longer impact than chemotherapy, with fewer side effects.
Checkpoint inhibitor drugs release a natural brake on the immune system. This lets immune cells called T cells recognize and attack tumors. Before immunotherapy, T cells could get a signal that stopped them from killing cancer cells.
There are 3 checkpoint inhibitor drugs available to treat bladder cancer:
- Avelumab (Bavencio®). This drug is used as a maintenance therapy. It’s for locally advanced or metastatic cancer that is stable or shrunk with standard chemotherapy drugs.
- Nivolumab (Opdivo®). This drug is used to treat high risk bladder cancers after bladder removal. It’s also for locally advanced or metastatic bladder cancer that does not respond well to standard chemotherapy drugs.
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®). This drug can be given for locally advanced or metastatic bladder cancer that does not respond well to standard chemotherapy drugs. It’s also for people who are not able to have chemotherapy.
MSK played a key role in getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for pembrolizumab and nivolumab. MSK researchers continue to look for ways to make these immunotherapy drugs work better for more people.