Treatment overview

Your treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer, its size and your general health.

If you have invasive bladder cancer that hasn’t spread, the aim of treatment will usually be to cure the cancer. Most people have chemotherapy with either surgery or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is normally given before surgery or radiotherapy. Surgery usually involves removing the whole bladder. Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. You may be asked to choose whether you have surgery or radiotherapy.

Your specialist doctor and nurse will talk to you about your options. You can decide together which treatment to have.

Bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is called advanced or metastatic cancer. If this is your situation, you will usually have treatment to control the growth of the cancer and help with symptoms, rather than cure the cancer. This is called palliative treatment. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can both be used as palliative treatments. Your doctors will discuss with you the treatment they think is best for you.

Treatment overview

The type of treatment you are offered will depend on the stage of the cancer, its size and your general health. Treatment may be given to cure the cancer. If a cure isn’t possible, you can have treatment with the aim of controlling the cancer and relieving your symptoms.


Treatment to cure the cancer

People with invasive bladder cancer that hasn’t spread to other parts of the body usually have treatment that aims to cure the cancer.

The main treatments are:

  • chemotherapy
  • surgery to remove the bladder
  • radiotherapy to the bladder and pelvis.

Most people have chemotherapy and either surgery or radiotherapy. You may be asked to choose between surgery and radiotherapy.

Your specialist doctor and nurse will talk to you about the different treatment options and how they may affect you. You can then decide together what treatment is best for you.

Treatments each have their own benefits and disadvantages. You can read more in our section on treatment decisions.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is often used before surgery or radiotherapy to shrink the tumour. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

Some people have chemotherapy after surgery. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. It may reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Surgery usually involves removing the whole bladder (cystectomy) and making a new way for you to pass urine (urinary diversion). Having your bladder removed is major surgery. It can take time to cope with and adjust to.

Sometimes, a bladder tumour may be removed without removing the bladder. There is more information about this in our information about surgery.

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It means you will keep your bladder, but some people may have permanent side effects to cope with.

You may have chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy, to make treatment more effective. This is called chemoradiation.


Treatment to control the cancer and relieve symptoms

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic cancer), you’ll usually be given treatment to control tumour growth and relieve your symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.

Chemotherapy can help to control the cancer in some people, but it can also cause side effects. Not everyone is fit enough to have chemotherapy. Your doctor will let you know if it is suitable for you. They will also discuss the risks and benefits of having chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy can be used to treat symptoms such as bleeding from a tumour in the bladder. It may also be used to relieve pain if cancer has spread to the bones.

We have more information about palliative treatment.

Back to Understanding your diagnosis

Just been diagnosed

Just been diagnosed with cancer? We're here for you every step of the way. There are many ways we can help.

Staging and grading

Doctors will stage and grade the cancer using further tests. This helps them to choose the most appropriate type of treatment.

My Cancer Treatment

Macmillan is supporting a new online tool to help you make decisions about your treatment and care. The tool currently only covers England.

Treatment decisions

You may have to decide whether to have surgery or radiotherapy as your main treatment.