These cancers have invaded the muscle layer of the bladder wall. Transurethral resection (TURBT) is typically the first treatment for these cancers, but it is done to help determine the extent of the cancer rather than to try to cure it.
When the cancer has invaded the muscle, radical cystectomy (removal of the bladder) is the standard treatment. Lymph nodes near the bladder are often removed as well. If cancer is in only one part of the bladder, some patients can be treated with a partial cystectomy instead. Only a small number of patients are good candidates for this.
Although at this stage the cancer has not been detected outside the bladder, in some cases there may already be tiny deposits of cancer growing elsewhere in the body. For this reason, chemotherapy is often given either before surgery (neoadjuvant chemo) or after surgery (adjuvant chemo) to lower the chance the cancer will come back.
Many doctors prefer to give chemo before surgery because it has been shown to help patients live longer than surgery alone. When chemo is given first, surgery is delayed. This is not a problem if the chemo shrinks the bladder cancer, but it might be harmful if the tumor continues to grow during chemo.
Another option for some patients may be a second (and more extensive) transurethral resection (TURBT), followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Some people may prefer this because it lets them keep their bladder, but it’s not clear if the outcomes are as good as they are after cystectomy, so not all doctors agree with this approach. If this treatment is used you will need frequent and careful follow-up exams. Some experts recommend a repeat cystoscopy and biopsy during treatment with chemo and radiation. If cancer is found in the biopsy sample, a cystectomy will likely be needed.
For patients who can’t have a major operation because of other serious health problems, TURBT, radiation, chemotherapy, or some combination of these may options.