Bladder Cancer: Treatments


The choice of treatment depends on the stage of the tumor, the severity of the symptoms, and the presence of other medical conditions.

Stage 0 and stage I treatments:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor without removing the rest of the bladder.
  • Chemotherapy or immunotherapy directly into the bladder.

Stage II and stage III treatments:

  • Surgery to remove the entire bladder (radical cystectomy).
  • Surgery to remove only part of the bladder, followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery.
  • A combination of chemotherapy and radiation (in patients who choose not to have surgery or who cannot have surgery).

Most patients with stage IV tumors cannot be cured and surgery is not appropriate. In these patients, chemotherapy is often considered.


Chemotherapy may be given to patients with stage II and III cancer, either before or after surgery to help prevent the tumor from returning. Chemotherapy may be given as a single drug or in different combinations of drugs.

For early disease (stages 0 and I), chemotherapy is usually given directly into the bladder. Several different types of chemotherapy medications may be administered. A catheter can be used to deliver the medication into the bladder. For more advanced stages (II-IV), chemotherapy is usually given by vein (intravenously).


Bladder cancers are often treated by immunotherapy. In this treatment, a medication causes your own immune system to attack and kill the tumor cells. Immunotherapy for bladder cancer is usually performed using the Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine (commonly known as BCG). It is given through a catheter directly into the bladder.

Transurethral Resection of the Bladder (TURB)

People with stage 0 or I bladder cancer can be treated with transurethral resection of the bladder (TURB). This surgical procedure is performed under general or spinal anesthesia. A cutting instrument is inserted through the urethra to remove the bladder tumor.

Bladder Removal

Many people with stage II or III bladder cancer may need to have their bladder removed (radical cystectomy). Partial bladder removal may be performed in some patients. Bladder removal can now be done using minimally invasive surgical techniques such as laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgery.

Removal of part of the bladder is usually followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy to help decrease the chances of the cancer returning. Patients who have the entire bladder removed will receive chemotherapy after surgery to decrease the risk of the cancer coming back.

Radical cystectomy in men usually involves removing the bladder, prostate and seminal vesicles. In women, the urethra, uterus and the front wall of the vagina are removed along with the bladder. Often, the pelvic lymph nodes are also removed during the surgery to be examined in the laboratory.

A urinary diversion surgery (a surgical procedure to create an alternate method for urine storage) is usually done with radical cystectomy. Two common types of urinary diversion are an ileal conduit and a continent urinary reservoir.

Ileal Conduit

An ileal conduit is a small urine reservoir that is surgically created from a small segment of bowel. The ureters that drain urine from the kidneys are attached to one end of the bowel segment. The other end is brought out through an opening in the skin (a stoma). The stoma allows the patient to drain the collected urine out of the reservoir.

People who have had an ileal conduit need to wear a urine collection appliance outside their body at all times.

Continent Urinary Reservoir

A continent urinary reservoir is an alternate method of storing urine. A segment of colon is removed. It is used to create an internal pouch to store urine. Patients are able to insert a catheter periodically to drain the urine. A small stoma is placed against the skin.

Orthotopic Neobladder

This surgery is becoming more common in patients undergoing cystectomy. A segment of bowel is folded over to make a pouch (a neobladder, which means "new bladder"). Then it is attached to the place in the urethra where the urine normally empties from the bladder.

This procedure allows patients to maintain some normal urinary control. However, there are complications (including urine leakage at night). Urination is usually not the same as it was before surgery. Some patients may not be good candidates for this procedure. Discuss the pros and cons with your urologist.

Clinical Trials

New types of treatment are also being researched and tested at UCLA. Read more about Clinical Trials.