Bladder Cancer Treatment

Bladder cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the bladder. Smoking, gender and diet can affect the risk of developing bladder cancer, and it most often affects people over the age of 55. Bladder cancer is one of the most common cancers, but most people with bladder cancer have superficial and noninvasive tumors, and treatment is often very effective. Learn more about symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and staging of bladder cancer in our Health Library.

Because bladder cancer can require a variety of treatments, we use a multidisciplinary approach involving urologic surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists, including A. Karim Kader, MD, one of the most experienced bladder cancer surgeons in the United States.  

Superficial Bladder Cancer

For patients with superficial bladder cancer (cancer that has not invaded the muscle tissue), we can perform transurethral resection surgery (TUR), also known as transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT). During this surgery, a cystoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is passed into the bladder through the urethra. A tool called a resectoscope uses electric current to remove cancerous tissue. Most patients will have a catheter placed in their bladder to drain urine after the operation and to help flush away any bleeding or blood clots that could make it difficult to pass urine after the procedure.

We may perform intravesical immunotherapy with the drug BCG (bacillus Calmette-Guerin) instead of or along with the procedure to avoid future surgeries or removal of the bladder. Post-surgical treatment might also include chemotherapy. Learn more about these treatments in our Health Library:

It’s important to realize that bladder cancer will recur approximately 50 percent of the time. For this reason, it's vital to receive follow-up care, which includes regular cystoscopic evaluations for up to two years.

Bladder Cancer That May Have Spread

For patients with bladder cancer that appears to have spread to the muscle tissue, we may perform intravesical immunotherapy before other treatments such as TUR or partial cystectomy (partial removal of the bladder). Treatment before surgery is known as neoadjuvant treatment and can improve the outcome. Learn more about radical and partial cystectomy in our Health Library. 

Cystectomy for Muscle-Invasive (Advanced) Bladder Cancer

Cystectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the bladder. It is used to treat bladder cancer that has spread into the bladder wall (stages II and III) or to treat cancer that has recurred following initial treatment. Dr. Kader and other urologic cancer specialists at UC San Diego Health perform robot-assisted cystectomy and urinary diversion for patients with bladder cancer.

For most patients, radical cystectomy, or removal of the entire bladder, is the most effective option. During a radical cystectomy, nearby lymph nodes, part of the urethra, and nearby organs that may contain cancer cells are also removed. Performing these delicate procedures robotically allows the surgeon to magnify the surgical area, making it much easier to work around the tiny nerves that affect sexual function.

In men, the prostate, seminal vesicles and part of the vas deferens are removed. In women, the cervix, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and part of the vagina are removed.

After the bladder is removed, your surgeon will perform reconstructive surgery to create a urinary diversion (a new place for urine to be stored and to leave the body). See What Happens During Reconstructive Bladder Surgery for more information. Using the da Vinci robotic surgical system, our surgeons can perform this delicate procedure with greater visibility and precision than other techniques.

Bladder Cancer Research and Clinical Trials

Our team is dedicated to clinical research in the field of bladder cancer. Because of this, you may have the opportunity to be treated in a clinical trial, which is a research study that tests new treatments. Learn more about clinical trials or search for a trial.

Diet and Cancer Studies

Previous scientific research has suggested that certain foods–including carrots, cruciferous vegetables—may protect against bladder cancer. UC San Diego Health urologists, led by J. Kellogg Parsons, MD, are at the forefront of research that explores how diet can be used to potentially prevent and treat cancer.

Beginning in 2009, the team began a pilot study called Diet Intervention in Bladder Cancer Study (DIBS). It was a federally funded, randomized clinical trial of telephone-based dietary intervention focused on increasing consumption of cruciferous vegetables in people with early-stage bladder cancer. The study is now closed. Read a description or see the results published in Cancer Prevention Research.

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    Articles by UC San Diego Health Physicians

    View scientific articles on bladder cancer by our surgeons and oncologists.