Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to treat cancer. It is usually a systemic therapy that circulates throughout the body and destroys cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour. Chemotherapy may also be a regional therapy, given to specific areas of the body.
Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat bladder cancer.
Chemotherapy may be used:
- before surgery to shrink a tumour (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
- after surgery, with or without radiation therapy, to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (adjuvant chemotherapy)
- to treat advanced cancer
Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.
Intravesical chemotherapy is placed directly into the bladder through a urinary catheter. It is usually given after transurethral resection (TUR). This type of chemotherapy is most often used for recurrent superficial tumours if biological therapy with bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is not successful.
- The chemotherapy drug is placed directly into the bladder through a catheter that is inserted through the urethra and into the bladder.
- The drug is left in the bladder for 1 or 2 hours to make contact with the cancer cells on the inner lining of the bladder.
- The treatment is repeated once a week for several weeks.
- Intravesical chemotherapy may be continued once a month or several times a month, for up to a year.
The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat superficial bladder cancer with intravesical chemotherapy are:
- thiotepa (ThioTEPA)
- mitomycin (Mutamycin)
- doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
- epirubicin (Pharmorubicin)
Systemic chemotherapy is injected through a needle or catheter into a vein. It may be used to treat locally advanced and metastatic bladder cancer.
A combination of chemotherapy drugs is more effective than any single drug in treating bladder cancer. The most common chemotherapy combinations used to treat locally advanced or metastatic bladder cancer are:
- GemCIS, or GC
- gemcitabine (Gemzar)
- cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
- vinblastine (Velbe)
Other drugs sometimes used in combination to treat bladder cancer include:
- cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Procytox)
- paclitaxel (Taxol)
For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.
See a list of questions to ask your doctor about chemotherapy.