Bladder Cancer Overview

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Treating Bladder Cancer TOPICS

Radiation therapy for bladder cancer

Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. The type of radiation most often used to treat bladder cancer uses radiation from outside of the body on the cancer.

Before your treatments start, careful measurements will be done to decide on the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. The treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the dose is stronger. The treatment itself is painless and 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.

Radiation treatment can be used:

  • As part of the treatment for early stage bladder cancer, after limited surgery
  • As the main treatment for people with early stage cancers who can’t have surgery
  • As part of the treatment for advanced bladder cancers
  • To help prevent or treat symptoms caused by advanced bladder cancers

Radiation treatment is often combined with chemotherapy to help it work better.

Side effects of radiation

Side effects of radiation depend on the dose given and the place being treated. They tend to be worse if chemotherapy is given with the radiation. Side effects may include:

  • Skin changes - ranging from redness to severe irritation with blistering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bladder symptoms, like burning or pain with urination, feeling the need to go often, or blood in the urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Low blood counts, which can lead to fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding, or increased risk of infection

These problems usually go away after treatment ends. Some people can have long-term side effects such as problems holding urine, blood in the urine, or pain when urinating. If you have any side effects, you should talk to your doctor. Often there are ways to help.

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