Intravesical chemotherapy

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Intravesical chemotherapy involves infusing liquid therapy via a catheter (flexible tube) into the bladder.

Who receives this treatment: Intravesical chemotherapy is used to treat superficial (early stage) cancers. It can be given as a "single shot" after the initial resection of a superficial tumour or a weely courses over six weeks.

What drugs are used: The most common drug is called mitomycin-c but other drugs are sometimes used including valrubicin, thiotepa and doxorubicin. These drugs work by poisoning cancer cells.

How is it given: There are two main ways intravesical chemotherapy is used. First, if the surgeon suspects a cancer at the time of transurethral resection (cystoscope) a single bolus is inserted into the bladder whilst the patient is asleep then drained off a short while later. The other or additional strategy is to give a course of treatment as an outpatient.

What to expect: This treatment is usually given on an outpatient basis. Patients are catheterised and the drugs infused via the catheter into the bladder. The catheter is clamped to stop the liquid pouring out for between 20-40 minutes. During this time the patient is asked to change positions in order to spread the liquid around the bladder. After this time the liquid and catheter is removed and disposed of  safely. This is often repeated weekly for between 6-8 weeks depending on the recommendations from the surgeon.

Side effects: These can range form very mild to severe. If severe it may not be possible to administer the full course. Most of these side effects occur immediately after the procedure for a day or two - if they persist patients are advised to go to their doctor/ nurse to have their urine tested for infection. Possible side effects include:

As in all cancer treatments, these unpleasant side effects vary widely with the individual. Drink plenty of liquids particularly water, simple analgesia such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs. If symptoms do not settle within a few days take a urinary sample to the GP or specialist nurses to ensure that a urinary infection has not developed.

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

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