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Recurrent Bladder Cancer

Patients with recurrent bladder cancer have cancer that has returned following initial treatment with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

A variety of factors ultimately influence a patient’s decision to receive treatment of cancer. The purpose of receiving cancer treatment may be to improve symptoms through local control of the cancer, increase a patient’s chance of cure, or prolong a patient’s survival. The potential benefits of receiving cancer treatment must be carefully balanced with the potential risks of receiving cancer treatment.

The following is a general overview of the treatment of recurrent bladder cancer. Circumstances unique to your situation and prognostic factors of your cancer may ultimately influence how these general treatment principles are applied to your situation. The information on this Web site is intended to help educate you about your treatment options and to facilitate a mutual or shared decision-making process with your treating cancer physician.

Most new treatments are developed in clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies that evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs or treatment strategies. The development of more effective cancer treatments requires that new and innovative therapies be evaluated with cancer patients. Participation in a clinical trial may offer access to better treatments and advance the existing knowledge about treatment of this cancer. Clinical trials are available for most stages of cancer. Patients who are interested in participating in a clinical trial should discuss the risks and benefits of clinical trials with their physician. To ensure that you are receiving the optimal treatment of your cancer, it is important to stay informed and follow the cancer news in order to learn about new treatments and the results of clinical trials.

Recurrent Superficial Bladder Cancer

Patients with a diagnosis of superficial bladder cancer have frequent recurrences of cancer throughout their lives. Most of the time, these recurrences are non-invasive and not life threatening. Treatment of recurrent superficial bladder cancer essentially uses the same treatment approaches as were initially offered. Go to Stage I to learn about treatment options. In some instances, partial or total bladder resection may be utilized to control recurrent superficial bladder cancers. To learn more, go to Surgery for Bladder Cancer.

Treatment of Patients with Superficial Bladder Cancer That Progress to Stage II-IV Bladder Cancer

Approximately 20-40% of all patients with superficial bladder cancer will ultimately progress to more advanced stages or muscle invasive bladder cancer. When this occurs, patients are treated based on new staging of the current more invasive bladder cancer. For treatment of patients with superficial bladder cancer who have progressed, select one of the following:

Patients who experience a recurrence after initial treatment for stage II-IV bladder cancer may be treated with cystectomy (if not performed previously), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or enrollment in a clinical trial.

Strategies to Improve Treatment

The progress that has been made in the treatment of bladder cancer has resulted from improved treatments evaluated in clinical trials. Future progress in the treatment of bladder cancer will result from continued participation in appropriate studies. Currently, there are several areas of active exploration aimed at improving the treatment of bladder cancer.

Supportive Care: Supportive care refers to treatments designed to prevent and control the side effects of cancer and its treatment. Side effects not only cause patients discomfort, but also may prevent the optimal delivery of therapy at its planned dose and schedule. In order to achieve optimal outcomes from treatment and improve quality of life, it is imperative that side effects resulting from cancer and its treatment are appropriately managed. For more information, go to Managing Side Effects.

New Chemotherapy Regimens: Development of new multi-drug chemotherapy treatment regimens that incorporate new or additional anti-cancer therapies for use as treatment is an active area of clinical research carried out in phase II clinical trials.

Targeted Cancer Therapies: Targeted therapies are drugs interfere with specific pathways involved in cancer cell growth or survival. Some targeted therapies block growth signals from reaching cancer cells; others reduce the blood supply to cancer cells; and still others stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer cell. Depending on the specific “target”, targeted therapies may slow cancer cell growth or increase cancer cell death. Targeted therapies may be used in combination with other cancer treatments such as conventional chemotherapy.

Several different types of targeted therapy are being evaluated for the treatment of advanced bladder cancer. For example, a phase II clinical trial suggested that the targeted therapy Herceptin® (trastuzumab; a drug used to treat breast cancers that overexpress a protein known as HER2) may be effective in combination with chemotherapy for patients with HER2-positive advanced bladder cancer.1

Phase I Trials: New anti-cancer therapies continue to be developed and evaluated in phase I clinical trials. The purpose of phase I trials is to evaluate new drugs and/or therapeutic approaches in order to determine the best way of administering the treatment and whether the treatment has any anti-cancer activity in patients with bladder cancer.

Multiple Drug Resistance Inhibitors: Bladder cancer can be drug resistant at the outset of treatment or develop drug resistance after treatment. Several drugs are being tested to determine if they will overcome or prevent the development of multiple drug resistance in bladder cancer and other cancers.


1 Hussain MHA, MacVicar GR, Petrylak DP et al. Trastuzumab, paclitaxel, carboplatin, and gemcitabine in advanced human epidermal growth factor receptor-2/neu-positive urothelial carcinoma: results of a multicenter phase II National Cancer Institute Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2007;25:2218-2224.

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Bladder Cancer FACT SHEET

Bladder cancer usually occurs within the lining of the bladder, which stores the body’s urine, and can grow into the bladder wall.

Mike Downey

Patient Story: Mike Downey

“People should know they're not alone – especially at Texas Oncology, such a compassionate and brilliant group of oncology professionals that we’re blessed to have in Austin.”