Radiation Therapy for Bladder Cancer

Doctors at NYU Langone may use radiation therapy, a treatment that uses energy beams to destroy bladder cancer cells. This treatment is most often combined with chemotherapy to prevent the need for radical cystectomy, which is the removal of the entire bladder. Doctors give this combination of therapy, called chemoradiation, after transurethral resection, a procedure during which as much of the tumor is removed as possible.

Chemoradiation given after transurethral resection may sometimes be an option in people with advanced bladder cancer that has grown into the muscle layer of the organ wall but has not spread elsewhere. People who are candidates usually have only one tumor, and it is not blocking the kidneys, the two organs located above the bladder that filter blood and produce urine. Candidates must also have good overall bladder function.

Doctors may also recommend chemoradiation for people who cannot have radical cystectomy because they are in poor health and can’t tolerate surgery.

Given alone, radiation therapy may help relieve cancer-related symptoms, such as pain and bleeding.

Radiation Treatment Planning

Our radiation oncologists use CT scans of the bladder cancer tumor and surrounding tissue and organs, in conjunction with computer software, to develop a customized radiation treatment plan. The software creates a three-dimensional image of the tumor and surrounding organs and enables doctors to determine how best to target the bladder cancer while sparing healthy tissue.

During your treatments, our physicians may use frequent CT scans to ensure that radiation therapy targets the tumor and avoids healthy tissue. This approach, called image-guided radiation therapy, helps to compensate for the natural movement of organs caused by breathing during treatment. The technique also enables doctors to track the size and shape of the tumor throughout treatment.

External Beam Radiation Therapy

To manage bladder cancer, doctors at NYU Langone may use external beam radiation therapy, which is delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator. The machine rotates around you during therapy, helping to target the bladder cancer.

Treatment is usually given once a day, five days a week, for several weeks. Breaking the radiation into small doses, called fractions, helps doctors deliver enough radiation to treat the tumor while sparing healthy tissue and reducing the risk of side effects.

Doctors use different types of radiation therapy to treat bladder cancer. You and your doctors discuss which option is best for you.

Three-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy enables doctors to deliver radiation beams tailored to the size, shape, and location of the tumor. Using a linear accelerator, the oncologist delivers radiation beams from different directions to closely target the tumor.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy

This approach is a more targeted form of three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy. Radiation is delivered from different directions, but doctors break up the doses into many small, computer-controlled beams of different, adjustable strengths. Together, these minibeams conform to the size and shape of the tumor.

Managing Side Effects

Our doctors carefully plan radiation therapy to minimize side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and bladder irritation. Our support and integrative health services can also help to reduce side effects.

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