Treatment for bladder cancer

What are the types of bladder cancer?

Most bladder cancers are transitional cell cancers. These can be divided into two types:

  • Superficial bladder cancer
  • Invasive bladder cancer

Superficial bladder cancer

This is bladder cancer that grows on the lining of your bladder and does not grow into the underneath layers of your bladder. It is not unusual to have more than one superficial cancerous growth in your bladder. These growths can be removed easily in a short operation.

Superficial bladder cancers tend to come back from time to time. They can be treated in the same way each time. This is quite common in superficial bladder cancer. For this reason your doctor will want to see you quite regularly to look inside your bladder (cystoscopy). If they come back very often, or the grading of the cancer changes your doctor may suggest you have some drug treatment, such as chemotherapy or BCG, put into your bladder to help stop the growths returning as often. See the Treatment section below for more information on bladder chemotherapy and BCG.

Invasive bladder cancer

This cancer has grown into the muscle of the bladder or spread to some organs or tissues nearby.


The treatment of bladder cancer varies, depending on the type of cancer you have. Superficial and invasive bladder cancers are treated in different ways.

Superficial bladder cancer

The main treatments include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy into the bladder
  • BCG vaccine into the bladder


Most early bladder cancers can be easily removed during a cystoscopy. This is often the only treatment that is needed.

Chemotherapy into the bladder

This is called intravesical chemotherapy. Here the chemotherapy is given into a tube called a catheter, which is put into your bladder. This is usually done soon after surgery, while you are in hospital. The chemotherapy kills any cancer cells on the lining of your bladder. The drugs most commonly used are mitomycin-C and epirubicin.

BCG into the bladder

BCG is a vaccine used to treat conditions like tuberculosis and bladder cancer. In bladder cancer, the vaccine makes the body's own immune system kill the cancer cells. The vaccine is usually given as an outpatient a few weeks after your surgery. It will be given into a tube (catheter), which is placed in your bladder. This treatment is used after surgery when there is a risk of the cancer coming back.

Invasive bladder cancer

The main treatments include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy


This involves removing your bladder in an operation called a cystectomy. You will then have to pass urine in a different way.

A new way will be made to drain urine from your body. This will be done in the same operation to remove your bladder.

Sometimes it is possible to construct a new bladder. Your surgeon will explain the different ways of draining urine. These include:

  • Urostomy (ileal conduit)
  • Continent urinary diversion
  • Bladder reconstruction

For more information on cystectomy for bladder cancer read our booklet Understanding Cancer of the Bladder or call a specialist nurse on the Cancer Nurseline Freefone 1800 200 700.


Radiotherapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill the cancer cells in your bladder. See the booklet Understanding Radiotherapy, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more details about the types of radiotherapy and possible side-effects.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control the cancer. It can be used before your surgery or radiotherapy. Some drugs commonly used are:

See the booklet called Understanding Chemotherapy and other drugs, which you can download from our "Publications about cancer treatment side effects" list on the right hand side of this page, for more information.

Advanced Treatment

Advanced cancer is when the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. In this case, it may be possible to keep the cancer under control by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But it is unlikely the cancer will be cured. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to shrink the cancer to improve your symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.

Side effects

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the type of treatment, the dose, the duration and your own general health. Your doctor will discuss any likely side-effects before treatment.

Some treatments may cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite or hair loss. Many treatments cause fatigue. You may also experience urine infections, bleeding from the bladder, pain when passing urine, and having to go to the bathroom more often. If you have bladder surgery, you may need a urostomy. This is when your urine drains into a bag on the surface of your belly.

For more about coping with side-effects, download any of the "Publications about cancer treatment side effects" listed on the right hand side of this page.

Learn more about side effects

Clinical trial

If a treatment looks like it might be helpful, it is given to patients in research studies called clinical trials. Trials may be taking place at the hospital you are attending. If you are interested in taking part, talk to your doctor. He or she can tell you if the trial would suit you or not.

Learn more about clinical trials

For more information on bladder cancer see our booklet Understanding Cancer of the Bladder.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Friday, August 26, 2016