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What to Know First About Your Treatment Choices for Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer can be treated. The recommendations for your treatment depend on each of these factors.

  • Type of bladder cancer you have

  • Size and location of the tumor

  • Your age and general health

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

You have to decide on a treatment plan once you know the type and stage of bladder cancer you have. This section will help you understand your treatment options and what’s best for you. Talking about your treatment choices will be one of the most important meetings you’ll have with your doctor.

It may take time to choose the best plan. Ask your doctor how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get an opinion from another doctor before deciding on treatments. Some health insurance companies require a second opinion before starting treatment. You may also want to talk with your family and friends. In fact, to help deal with the medical information and remember all of your questions, it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you to doctor's appointments. 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 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 returning.

  • Slow the growth of cancer and treat symptoms when the cancer isn’t curable.

  • 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 two or more treatments is called combination treatment: 

  • Surgery. This is a common treatment for bladder cancer. There are several types of surgery. The kind your doctor suggests depends on the stage of bladder cancer you have. In some cases, the surgeon takes out only the tumor, or tumors, if there are more than one. Part of the bladder may be removed. In some cases, the whole bladder is taken out. In some cases, surgery cures the cancer.

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

  • Chemotherapy. This treatment can be given either alone or with radiation. It may be given before or after surgery. It is often used when bladder cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The kind of chemotherapy that is given depends on the type of bladder cancer.

  • Radiation treatment. Radiation can be given alone or with chemotherapy. Radiation with chemotherapy can cure some people and leave them with a bladder that still functions. This treatment can also be given after surgery to help destroy cancer cells that may still be in the body.

Sometimes new treatments are available in a clinical trial. You can ask your doctor about clinical trials.

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

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