Bladder Cancer

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Treating Bladder Cancer TOPICS

Radiation therapy for bladder cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.

When might radiation therapy be used?

Radiation therapy can be used:

  • As part of the treatment for some early stage bladder cancers, after surgery that doesn’t remove the whole bladder (such as TURBT)
  • As the main treatment for people with earlier-stage cancers who can’t have surgery
  • As part of the initial treatment for advanced bladder cancer
  • To help prevent or treat symptoms caused by advanced bladder cancer

Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy to make the radiation more effective. This is known as chemoradiation.

How is radiation therapy given?

The type of radiation most often used to treat bladder cancer, known as external beam radiation therapy, focuses radiation from a source outside of the body on the cancer.

Before your treatments start, your radiation team will take careful measurements to find the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. This planning session, called simulation, usually includes getting imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.

The treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the setup time – getting you into place for treatment – usually takes longer. Most often, radiation treatments are given 5 days a week for several weeks.

Possible side effects of radiation therapy

Side effects of radiation depend on the dose given and the area being treated. They can include:

  • Skin changes in areas getting radiation, ranging from redness to blistering and peeling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bladder symptoms, like burning or pain when you urinate, feeling the need to go often, or blood in urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood counts, which can lead to fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding, or increased risk of infection

These effects usually go away after treatment, although some people can have longer-term problems. For example:

  • In some people radiation treatments can lead to incontinence (problems holding urine) later on.
  • Radiation can damage the lining of the bladder. This is known as radiation cystitis and can cause long-term problems such as blood in the urine or painful urination.

If you have side effects from radiation therapy, discuss them with your health care team. They can suggest ways to ease many of them.

To learn more about radiation therapy, see the Radiation Therapy section of our website.

Last Medical Review: 01/26/2016
Last Revised: 05/23/2016