What is Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer?

Our immune system helps us to fight things in our body that does not belong there and can harm us. In many cases, this developed as a response to infection (bacteria and viruses). The finding that changed how we treat cancer is that the immune system can effectively fight cancer. But sometimes our immune system cannot "see" or recognize cancer cells as foreign matter because the cancer is hiding.

Immunotherapies work to stimulate our immune system to find the cancer cells, even those that are hiding. Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) immunotherapy has been around for more than 40 years. It is used to fight bladder cancer and is a drug which the doctor puts straight into the bladder using a small tube or catheter.

BCG decreases the chance of cancers that have not invaded the muscle of the bladder from returning. While BCG is localized, another form of systemic therapy is immune checkpoint inhibitors that release the break on the immune system. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are delivered through your vein in what is known as an infusion. These drugs are often used for cancers that have spread outside of the bladder or cancers that return after chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy may be a good choice for you whether you had surgery to remove cancer from your bladder, or had the whole bladder removed. It may also be a good option if you have had chemotherapy but your cancer came back or spread.

Your doctor can give you more facts about these drugs including their role in your cancer care. Clinical trials are now open across the country to identify the best use of immunotherapy. To learn more about Clinical Trials, visit UrologyHealth.org/ClinicalTrials

For key resources on Immunotherapy and Bladder Cancer, visit UrologyHealth.org/BladderHealth

Dr. Joshua Meeks is an Assistant Professor of Urology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as Section Chief of Robotic Surgery at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.