Cancer and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer, an important part of cancer care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.
Palliative care is any treatment that focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and supporting patients and their families. Any person, regardless of age or type and stage of cancer, may receive palliative care. It works best when palliative care is started as early as needed in the cancer treatment process.
People often receive treatment for the cancer and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. In fact, patients who receive both often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment.
Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, emotional support, and other therapies. You may also receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the cancer, such as chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment in your treatment plan.
Before treatment begins, talk with your health care team about the possible side effects of your specific treatment plan and palliative care options. And during and after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor or another health care team member if you are experiencing a problem so it can be addressed as quickly as possible.
THE MOST COMMON METHODS
OF TREATING BLADDER CANCER
Surgery is the most common treatment for bladder cancer. The type of surgery depends on the stage and grade of the tumor, and can include:
- Transurethral Resection (TUR) - TUR is often used to treat early bladder cancer. The doctor inserts a thin tube with a light called a cystoscope into the bladder. The doctor then uses a tool with a small wire loop to remove the cancer with an electric current and burn away remaining cancer cells. Some patients have chemotherapy or biological therapy after TUR.
- Radical Cystectomy - The doctor removes the entire bladder, nearby lymph nodes, part of the urethra, and nearby organs that might contain cancer cells. In men, these may include the prostate, seminal vesicles and part of the vas deferens. In women, these may include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and part of the vagina. Radical cystectomy is often used to treat invasive bladder cancer.
- Segmental Cystectomy - This treatment involves removal of part of the bladder. It is used when a patient has a low-grade cancer in just one area of the bladder wall.
2. RADIATION THERAPY
Radiation therapy is used to destroy cancer cells that remain after surgery, to relieve pain caused by cancer, and occasionally to shrink tumors before surgery. Radiation can be given alone or with chemotherapy or surgery, or both. Radiation can be administered externally or internally. Some patients receive both external and internal radiation.
- External radiation - A large machine directs radiation at the abdomen and uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
- Internal radiation - The doctor places a container of radioactive substance into the bladder through an incision in the abdomen. The patient may stay in the hospital for a few days.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells, and may include one drug or a combination of drugs. Patients may have chemotherapy alone or with surgery, radiation, or both.
For patients with superficial bladder cancer, the doctor may use local therapy after TUR. This involves administering liquid drugs into the bladder using a catheter. The drugs remain in the bladder for several hours at a time. If the cancer is invasive or has spread, the doctor may give drugs through a vein. The drugs flow through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer and is often used after TUR and helps prevent the cancer from returning.
SIDE EFFECT OF BLADDER CANCER TREATMENT
The side effects of bladder cancer surgery depend on the procedure. Research has shown that having a surgeon with bladder cancer expertise can improve the outcome of patients with bladder cancer. Patients should talk with their doctor in detail to understand exactly what side effects may occur, including urinary and sexual side effects, and how they can be managed. In general, side effects may include:
- Delayed healing
- Mild bleeding and discomfort after surgery.
- Infections or urine leaks after cystectomy or a urinary diversion. If a neobladder has been created, a patient may sometimes be unable to urinate or completely empty the bladder.
- Men may be unable to have an erection, called erectile dysfunction, after cystectomy. Sometimes, a nerve-sparing cystectomy can be performed. When this is done successfully, men may be able to have a normal erection.
- Damage to the nerves in the pelvis and loss of sexual feeling and orgasm for both men and women. Often, these problems can be fixed.
Patients should talk with their doctor about any side effects they are experiencing. Learn more about the basics of cancer surgery.
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used, but they can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished.
Learn more about the basics of chemotherapy and preparing for treatment. The medications used to treat cancer are continually being evaluated. Talking with your doctor is often the best way to learn about the medications prescribed for you, their purpose, and their potential side effects or interactions with other medications. Learn more about your prescriptions by using searchable drug databases.
Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, and loose bowel movements. For bladder cancer, side effects most commonly occur in the pelvic or abdominal area and may include bladder irritation, with the need to pass urine frequently during the treatment period, and bleeding from the bladder or rectum. Most side effects go away soon after treatment is finished.
4. BIOLOGICAL THERAPY
Side effects may include irritation of the bladder, an urgent need to urinate or frequent urination, pain when urinating, and fatigue. Some patients may have blood in the urine, nausea, a low-grade fever, or chills.