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With intravesical treatment the doctor puts a liquid drug right into the bladder rather than giving it by mouth or putting it into a vein. Drugs given this way mainly affect the cells lining the inside of the bladder, with little to no effect on cells elsewhere. For this reason, intravesical therapy is only used for some early-stage bladder cancers.

Intravesical immunotherapy

Bacillus Calmette-Guerin therapy (BCG) is a type of immunotherapy that is useful for treating early-stage bladder cancer. BCG is a type of germ that is usually harmless. It is given right into the bladder through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. The body’s immune system cells are drawn to the bladder and attack the cancer. BCG is usually started a few weeks after a transurethral resection of the tumor and is given once a week for 6 weeks. Sometimes BCG is given long-term.

BCG treatment may cause flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, and tiredness) as well as a burning feeling in the bladder. Rarely, a high fever that does not get better when you take a pain reliever could mean a serious spread of BCG throughout the body. If this happens, you should call your doctor right away. These infections can be treated with antibiotics.

Interferons are substances normally made by the body to turn on the immune system. They can also be made in the lab and given as medicine in the intravesical treatment of bladder cancer. Other drugs are often given with the interferon to relieve common side effects such as muscle aches, bone pain, headaches, tiredness, nausea, and vomiting.

Intravesical chemotherapy

In this treatment, chemotherapy (chemo) drugs are put into the bladder through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. Drugs given this way reach cancer cells in the bladder lining without affecting cells elsewhere, which helps limit side effects.

The main side effects of intravesical chemo are irritation and a burning feeling in the bladder.

Last Medical Review: 06/23/2014
Last Revised: 01/21/2016