Bladder Cancer Treatment

When you come to Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cancer Institute, you benefit from the latest treatment approaches in bladder cancer. Our bladder cancer specialists use robotic surgery to perform minimally invasive procedures. We also offer combination therapy and clinical trials. Your specific treatment plan depends on many factors, including the stage of the bladder cancer.

Expert bladder cancer treatment at AHN

At the Cancer Institute, a team including experts in urology, radiation therapy, and oncology uses the latest techniques and technology to provide a comprehensive treatment plan. We work to destroy the cancer while saving as much of the bladder function as possible. We offer robust support services to keep you living the best quality of life during treatment.

Our team is experienced in treating patients who have early-stage or late-stage bladder cancer:

  • Early-stage bladder cancer: More than 80 percent of our bladder cancer patients have early-stage cancer that can be fully treated by a urologist (a doctor who specializes in diseases of the urinary tract) with one minimally invasive procedure.
  • Late-stage bladder cancer: If the bladder cancer is further along, our highly skilled team of experts will work together to determine the best course of treatment for you. Our options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and clinical trials.

Our treatment plans include:

  • Minimally invasive procedures: Most of our bladder cancer patients receive treatment without a surgical incision. These types of procedures often result in a quicker, more comfortable recovery.
  • Advanced technology: Our surgeons use robotic surgical technology to perform intricate procedures with more precision and control than traditional techniques.
  • Clinical trials: Patients with advanced bladder cancer have access to excellent chemotherapy clinical trials (studies that are testing new therapies). These trials take place right here at the Cancer Institute, so you have more treatment options available without having to travel. Learn more about our clinical trials program.

Treatment options for bladder cancer

In most instances, a urologist treats bladder cancer by performing a minimally invasive surgery. Other times, we may use a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Bladder cancer surgery

At AHN, our experienced, skilled surgeons use minimally invasive procedures that require no incision at all or robotic surgery that uses tiny cuts instead of large incisions. These advanced techniques help you recover more quickly. Before your procedure, we will discuss pain management options with you.

  • Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT): In this noninvasive procedure, a physician inserts a scope into the urethra. The scope (tube) has a thin, wire loop at the end to remove any small tumors or cancerous cells from the bladder.
  • Cystectomy: When bladder cancer is in a more advanced stage, we may need to remove the bladder. We use robotic-assisted surgery, which is the most minimally invasive way possible to perform bladder cancer surgery. This type of surgery reduces pain and allows you to return to normal activities faster. After a cystectomy, you will need bladder reconstruction or a urostomy bag (an external bag that helps your body eliminate urine).
  • Partial cystectomy: If the cancer is contained to one small area of the bladder, we may remove a portion of the bladder. The rest of the bladder remains intact. You will be able to urinate normally, but since the bladder is smaller than before, you may have to urinate more frequently.
  • Bladder reconstruction: After removing the bladder, a surgeon creates a new way for the body to expel urine.
    • Ileal conduit: The surgeon connects a piece of the intestine to the kidneys and creates an opening, called a stoma, at the front of the abdomen. Urine exits the stoma into a urostomy bag.
    • Neobladder: In certain patients, the surgeon may be able to create a new bladder made out of a piece of intestine. With this type of surgery, you will not need a urostomy bag and will be able to urinate normally.

Bladder sparing procedure for bladder cancer

We use this advanced therapy to save the bladder and stop cancer from coming back (recurrence). This therapy combines three elements: TURBT surgery, followed by radiation, chemotherapy, or both.

Radiation therapy for bladder cancer

You may need radiation therapy (high-dose radiation beams directed at the tumor) before or after surgery as part of your treatment. We use advanced radiation treatments for bladder cancer that target the tumor while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue.

The Cancer Institute is the only radiation oncology network accredited in western Pennsylvania by both the American Society for Radiation Oncology and American College of Radiology. These designations mean that the Cancer Institute meets specific guidelines for patient safety, quality control, and efficiency of equipment.

Medical oncology for bladder cancer

Our expert medical oncologists choose specific chemotherapy medications depending on the results of surgery. We may give the drugs before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove or give the drugs after the surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. We may give you these medications through:

  • Your vein (intravenous)
  • Your mouth (oral)
  • Intravesical therapy (where we use a catheter to deliver the medication directly into the bladder)

Our advanced medical oncology therapies include:

  • Chemotherapy: These medications slow the growth of cancer. Because these strong drugs can also affect healthy cells, you may experience side effects. Our team monitors you to ease any side effects and to ensure the drugs are as effective as possible.
  • Targeted therapy: These drugs specifically target the genes and protein changes in cancer cells to stop the growth and spread of cancer. They often cause less severe side effects than chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy: Another type of drug treatment, immunotherapy prompts the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.