Other treatment options for bladder cancer

Biological therapy or Immunotherapy

Low grade and early stage cancers can be treated by inducing the immune system to fight the cancer cells and kill them. This is called biological therapy or immunotherapy. The most common form of biological therapy is Bacillus Calmette-Guerin therapy (BCG). This bacterium is associated with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). In BCG therapy, a catheter is used to insert this bacterium into the bladder.

Visual representation of a labelled urinary bladder

What is intravesical BCG

The BCG bacteria activate the immune system cells, which are then able to fight any bladder cancer cells that are present. This can be put into the bladder as a liquid which is known as intravesical BCG. This treatment is prescribed for once a week for 6 weeks. It often begins shortly carrying out a TUR. A TUR (or transurethral resection) is a surgical procedure that is used to diagnose bladder cancer as well as remove tumor lumps from the bladder.

Another immunotherapy option are interferons. IFNs are a group of signalling proteins that fight infection. A virus-infected cell releases interferons causing surrounding cells to heighten their antiviral defenses. Synthetic versions of interferons help fight bladder cancer, sometimes in combination with BCG.

Possible side effects of immunotherapy

Common side effects of these drugs include:

  • Tiredness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Rash and skin allergies
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Less often, more serious side effects can occur. These drugs work by basically taking the brakes off the body’s immune system. Sometimes the immune system starts attacking other parts of the body, which can cause serious or even life-threatening problems in the lungs, intestines, liver, hormone-making glands, or other organs.

It’s very important to report any new side effects to your health care team right away. If serious side effects do occur, treatment may need to be stopped and you may get high doses of steroids to suppress your immune system.

Read more on how to prevent bladder cancer.

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