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Bladder Cancer Treatment

The treatment for bladder cancer is dependent on the grade and stage of the cancer. Northwestern Medicine physicians use current state of the art guidelines to give you the highest quality of care.

Bladder sparing treatments (which include combinations of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery and even immunotherapy) may be possible for each patient. We have a team-approach that has been successful to safely offer bladder preservation. This team includes a urologist, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist who meet individually with each patient. Many of our physicians participate in national committees to help guide standard of care procedures.​


Surgery for bladder cancer is performed by a Northwestern Medicine oncology specialist. Surgical treatment options for bladder cancer include:

  • Transurethral removal: The mainstay of treatment for non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer is surgical removal. This may include standard white-light or blue-light cystoscopy.
  • Bladder removal: For patients with muscle-invasive (T2+) cancer, bladder removal provides the best chance for cure. Northwestern Medicine urologists use both open and minimally invasive surgery for surgical treatment of bladder cancer.

 Intravesical Therapies

  • BCG treatment: The main treatment for high-grade non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer is treatment with BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) into the bladder. These treatments increase the immune response and are the best way to decrease the recurrence of bladder cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy for BCG refractory bladder cancer is used to treat cancers that are not responsive to BCG treatment. Northwestern Medicine clinicians have experience in treating these cancers with the use of novel chemotherapies.
  • Trials in immunotherapy: Clinicians and investigators at Northwestern Medicine have extensive experience with clinical trials to treat patients with new agents and immunomodulators to treat non-muscle invasive bladder cancer.


For patients with muscle-invasive (T2) or greater cancers, a medical oncologist is a critical part of their Northwestern Medicine bladder cancer team. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered, either intravenously or orally, to treat cancerous cells that have spread outside the bladder.

 Radiation Therapy

Patients with muscle-invasive bladder cancer may elect to preserve their bladder. Radiotherapy is delivered in combination with surgery (endoscopic resection), chemotherapy and radiation. Your multidisciplinary specialty team will discuss if this option is right for you.

 Novel Therapies

We offer state-of-the-art therapy, such as immunotherapy and cancer-targeted therapies in clinical trials.

 Palliative Medicine

Side effects from cancer treatment can impact your quality of life and your body’s ability to respond to treatment. Northwestern Medicine is home to a diverse team of palliative medicine specialists who work with your oncologist to help relieve your pain and manage your symptoms. The palliative medicine specialists:

  • Treat pain and other physical symptoms of cancer, such as fatigue, nausea, trouble sleeping, poor appetite, breathing difficulties and weight loss.
  • Treat emotional symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Improve your body’s ability to tolerate cancer treatments.
  • Help you better understand tests, procedures and options.
  • Guide you and those who care for you to helpful outside resources.

From your initial diagnosis throughout your care, the palliative medicine team can help you remain stronger in your fight against cancer and feel better, every step of the way.

 Clinical Trials

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Browse our Clinical Trials to learn more about ongoing trials at the Polsky Institute.

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