FACTS ABOUT BLADDER CANCER
The bladder is located in the pelvis. It collects and stores urine and has a muscular wall that allows it to contract and expand. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 500,000 people in the United States are bladder cancer survivors.
Cancer limited to the lining of the bladder is called non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC). This type of cancer is sometimes called superficial bladder cancer. More than 75 percent of bladder cancer is diagnosed as a NMIBC and it has an excellent survival rate. Muscle invasive bladder cancer penetrates the layers of muscles in the bladder and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body but is often still quite curable. Bladder cancer is four times more common in men than in women. It is two times more common in Caucasians than African-Americans.
TREATING BLADDER CANCER
Treatment options are based on your type of cancer, age and overall health. Bladder cancer, if caught early, can often be cured.
The main treatments are:
• Radiation therapy, where a radiation oncologist uses high-energy X-rays to destroy the tumor.
• Surgery to remove the cancer in the bladder is usually the first step. If a tumor is determined to be invasive, the next step may be removal of part or all of the bladder by a surgical oncologist or urologist.
• Chemotherapy, where a medical oncologist uses drugs to eliminate the cancer.
• Biologic therapy (also called immunotherapy), where doctors use a drug to stimulate your immune system to fight cancer.
In the past, complete removal of the bladder was the only way to treat bladder cancer. With advances in radiation therapy and chemotherapy, doctors are sometimes able to treat cancer while preserving the bladder. This organ-preserving approach allows many patients to urinate normally rather than requiring surgical reconstruction for urinary function.
RADIATION THERAPY OPTIONS FOR BLADDER CANCER
Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the careful use of radiation to safely and effectively treat cancer. Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them. Healthy cells are also affected by radiation, but they are able to repair themselves in a way cancer cells cannot.
• External beam radiation therapy is the main type of radiation used to treat bladder cancer, often in combination with chemotherapy. During this treatment, radiation is directed at the tumor from a machine similar to an X-ray machine.
• Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, is occasionally used with external beam radiation therapy. Radioactive material is placed very close to the tumor through small tubes called catheters or with radioactive pellets.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS
The side effects you might feel will depend on the area being treated, the dose of radiation given and whether you also receive other treatments, such as chemotherapy. Before treatment begins, ask your doctor about specific side effects and how you can best manage them.
Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until treatments are finished. Some people have hardly any symptoms at all. You are unique as will be your reaction to cancer treatments. Talk to us about any discomfort or side effects you have, however embarrassing. We may be able to provide drugs or other treatments to help.
CARING FOR YOURSELF DURING TREATMENT
• Get plenty of rest during treatment. Follow your doctor’s orders.
• Ask if you are unsure about anything or if you have questions about your treatments and side effects.
• Tell your doctor about any medications or vitamins you are taking.
• Eat a balanced diet. If food tastes funny or if you’re having trouble eating, tell your doctor or dietician. They may be able to help you change the way you eat.
• Treat the skin exposed to radiation with special care. Avoid hot or cold packs, and only use lotions and ointments after checking with your doctor or nurse. Your radiation oncology team may also recommend special creams.
• When cleaning the area, use only water and mild soap.
Coping with cancer can be trying. Be sure to ask friends, family, support groups and your radiation oncology team for help. Ask your doctor about what support resources are available to you.