Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. These drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide but they also affect normal cells.
Chemotherapy may be given:
- before surgery or radiotherapy, to shrink the cancer and reduce the risk of it coming back (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy)
- at the same time as treatment with radiotherapy (chemoradiation), to make treatment more effective
- sometimes after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy), if there’s a high risk of the cancer coming back. It’s not known how effective this is, so it’s usually given as part of a clinical trial
- on its own for bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (palliative chemotherapy).
Drugs are often given in combination to treat bladder cancer. Some commonly used combinations are:
- gemcitabine and cisplatin (GC)
- methotrexate, vinblastine, doxorubicin and cisplatin (MVAC)
- 5-FU and mitomycin – usually given when chemotherapy is given at the same time as radiotherapy (chemoradiation)
- carboplatin and paclitaxel
- gemcitabine and carboplatin.
Other drug combinations or a single drug may also be given.
We have more information about individual chemotherapy drugs and different combinations.