Chemotherapy & Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer

Doctors at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center may use chemotherapy or immunotherapy to treat people who have bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy refers to drugs that are used to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. One of the most common drugs used to treat bladder cancer is cisplatin. It is often used in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.

Most of the drugs used to treat bladder cancer are given through a vein as an intravenous (IV) infusion. Treatment usually lasts for a few hours each day for several days over the course of a week. This cycle is repeated every three or four weeks, which gives the body time to recover between treatments. Total treatment time may be several months.

You may have chemotherapy before surgery. This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy. It can help shrink tumors, making surgery easier and safer.

Dr. Arjun Balar Examines Patient

Dr. Arjun Balar examines a patient.

You may also have chemotherapy after surgery if cancer has invaded the bladder wall or has spread to surrounding lymph nodes and other organs. Lymph nodes are small immune system glands that trap viruses and bacteria. Cancer often spreads to the lymph nodes first.

Chemotherapy may be the only treatment given to people who have advanced bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Doctors may provide a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to people who can’t have surgery because of poor health.

Side effects may include fatigue, infection, nausea, and vomiting. To help reduce side effects, our doctors can adjust the chemotherapy dose, prescribe medications to help manage the side effects, and refer you to support services and integrative therapies.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to shrink bladder cancer tumors. Doctors may prescribe immunotherapy for people whose bladder cancer has progressed despite treatment with cisplatin, or for people with advanced bladder cancer who cannot tolerate cisplatin.

These immunotherapy drugs are checkpoint inhibitors, which help the immune system attack tumor cells by blocking the action of proteins that allow cancer cells to evade recognition by the immune system.

Researchers at Perlmutter Cancer Center led studies that resulted in U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the first two immunotherapies currently available to treat advanced bladder cancer in people who cannot tolerate cisplatin.

Doctors also use Bacillus Calmette–Guérin, an older immunotherapy that is placed in the bladder through a catheter inserted into the urethra in a procedure called intravesical therapy.

Clinical Trials of New Treatments

Perlmutter Cancer Center researchers are national leaders in investigating the use of new chemotherapy drugs, immunotherapies, and targeted drugs, which are designed to treat cancer cells while avoiding healthy tissue.

Clinical Trials

We offer clinical trials to test new chemotherapy drugs, immunotherapies, and targeted drugs to treat bladder cancer.

Learn More

Our researchers are using combinations of these therapies to find the newest, most promising treatments for bladder cancer.

These treatments help prevent bladder cancer from progressing or returning and may be more effective while also having fewer side effects. You and your doctor can discuss whether a clinical trial might be right for you.