• Radiation Therapy for Bladder Cancer

    Radiation therapy is the use of penetrating beams of high-energy waves or streams of particles called radiation to treat disease. Radiation therapy destroys the ability of cancer cells to grow and divide.
    Radiation therapy may be used to treat bladder cancer. There are some studies that are looking into the use of radiation therapy done prior to surgical procedures for bladder cancer. Other times, this treatment is used when a patient cannot withstand surgical treatment or does not wish to undergo it. Radiation therapy may also be used in conjunction with other types of treatment for bladder cancer, including surgery , chemotherapy , and/or immunotherapy when surgery alone is not able to remove and control the cancer.

    Types of Radiotherapy Used for Bladder Cancer

    External radiation therapy can be used in the treatment of bladder cancer. In external radiation therapy, rays are directed at the tumor from outside the body.
    External radiation therapy is usually given on an outpatient basis, for three to five minutes, five days a week, over the course of five to seven weeks.


    Radiation therapy can be an effective type of treatment for superficial bladder cancer. However, it is less effective as a sole treatment for curing invasive bladder cancer. In fact, only 20% to 30% of patients receiving only radiation therapy for invasive bladder cancer will be cured. Radiation therapy for invasive bladder cancer is most effective when it is given in conjunction with other types of treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.

    Side Effects and Possible Complications

    In addition to the side effects of radiation therapy in general, radiation therapy to treat bladder cancer may cause the following side effects:
    • Men may have difficulty getting and maintaining an erection.
    • Women may experience vaginal dryness, causing discomfort during intercourse.
    • Patients may be unable to have children after treatment.
    • Bladder irritation may cause problems with urination:
      • Frequent need to urinate
      • Urgent need to urinate
      • Pain/burning with urination
    • Diarrhea and late reduction in bladder capacity may also occur.


    Campell’s Urology. 8th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Science; 2002: 2732-2765.

    Cassidy J, Bissett D, Spence R, Payne M. Oxford Handbook of Oncology. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc; 2006.

    Cecil Textbook of Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002: 633-634.

    Conn’s Current Therapy. 54th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002: 720-721.

    What you need to know about bladder cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/bladder . Accessed December 2002.

    Revision Information

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