Bladder cancer

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Treatments for metastatic bladder cancer

The following are treatment options for metastatic bladder cancer. Metastatic bladder cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This includes stage 4 and bladder cancers that come back in another part of the body (called distant recurrences). Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.


Chemotherapy is usually offered for metastatic bladder cancer. It is usually the first treatment to help slow the growth and spread of the cancer. It is used to help improve survival and quality of life.

Chemotherapy is given as a systemic therapy. A combination of chemotherapy drugs that includes cisplatin is commonly used. Other single drugs or combinations may be used if cisplatin-based chemotherapy causes too many side effects

Radiation therapy

You may be offered external radiation therapy for metastatic bladder cancer. It may be used if surgery can’t be done (the cancer is unresectable) or to control bleeding or pain from the bladder.

If bladder cancer spreads to the bone, external radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat it. Find out more about bone metastases.


You may be offered immunotherapy for metastatic bladder cancer. An immune checkpoint inhibitor is an immunotherapy drug that may be used if metastatic bladder cancer:

  • is still growing during or after chemotherapy that includes cisplatin
  • comes back within 12 months of finishing chemotherapy that includes cisplatin

The immune checkpoint inhibitors used for bladder cancer are:

  • pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • durvalumab (Imfinzi)
  • atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
  • avelumab (Bavencio)


Surgery may be offered for some cases of metastatic bladder cancer if surgery is possible (the cancer is resectable). It is used to help control symptoms, such as bleeding and pain (called palliative surgery). The type of surgery done depends on how the symptoms can be managed. Types of surgery that may be done include the following.

A transurethral resection of bladder tumour (TURBT) to remove tumours from the bladder through the urethra.

A cystectomy to remove all or part of the bladder. It is not a common surgery for metastatic bladder cancer.

A urinary diversion to make a new way to hold urine (pee) and pass it out of the body. It is done after the whole bladder is removed (radical cystectomy). A urinary diversion (without a cystectomy) may also be done if there is a blockage and urine can’t leave the body.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

Talk to your doctor about clinical trials open to people with bladder cancer in Canada. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

quality of life

Overall well-being and enjoyment of normal life activities.

systemic therapy

Treatment that travels through the bloodstream to reach cells all over the body.

Systemic therapy may be given by injection into a vein or muscle, or by mouth.

Also called systemic treatment.

external radiation therapy

A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine outside the body to direct a beam of radiation through the skin to a specific part of the body, usually a tumour.

Also called external beam radiation therapy.


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