Bladder Cancer Overview

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After Treatment TOPICS

Moving on after treatment for bladder cancer

For some people with bladder cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer growing or coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.

It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are living full lives. Our document, Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence gives more detailed information on this.

For other people, the bladder cancer may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer as more of a chronic disease can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty.

Follow-up care

If you have finished treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. People who have had bladder cancer are at high risk of getting a second bladder cancer, so it is very important to go to all of your follow-up visits. Your doctors will ask questions about any problems you may have and may do exams, lab tests (such as urine cytology), and imaging tests. These tests are described in the section “How is bladder cancer found?

In people with no signs of cancer left, most doctors will do repeat exams every 3 to 6 months to see if the cancer is growing back or if there is a new cancer within the urinary system. Your own schedule of exams and tests will depend on the extent and grade of the cancer when it was found, what treatments you’ve had, and other factors. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice about follow-up tests. A typical follow-up plan includes urine cytology, a physical exam, imaging tests, and routine blood tests. If your bladder has not been removed, regular cystoscopy exams will be part of the plan as well. The time between doctor visits may be longer after a few years if no new cancers are seen.

Some doctors will order other lab tests as well. Many different kinds of urine tests can help see if the cancer is coming back, but so far none of these can take the place of cystoscopy.

Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others can last the rest of your life. Please tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them. Use this time to ask your health care team questions and discuss any concerns you might have.

It is also important to keep health insurance. While you hope your cancer won’t come back, it could happen. If it does, you don’t want to have to worry about paying for treatment. Should your cancer come back, our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence can help you manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.

For patients with a urostomy

If you have a urostomy, you may worry about even everyday activities at first. It’s normal to have worries and concerns when getting used to such as major change, but it’s important to know there are health care experts with special training to help people with their urostomies. They can teach you about the care of your urostomy and help you cope with the changes it brings. You can also ask the American Cancer Society about programs offering information and support near you. For more information, see our document, Urostomy: A Guide.

Seeing a new doctor

At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself in the office of a new doctor. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy and always keep copies for yourself:

  • A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
  • Copies of imaging tests (CT or MRI scans, etc.), which can usually be stored on a CD, DVD, etc.
  • If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
  • If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home from the hospital
  • If you had radiation treatment, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
  • If you had chemotherapy or other treatments, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them

Last Medical Review: 12/03/2012
Last Revised: 04/17/2014