Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer
Innovative therapies that use your immune system to attack bladder cancer.
Immunotherapy is an innovative form of treatment that trains your immune system to recognize cancer cells and destroy them like any other disease. We also can use immunotherapy to strengthen your immune system and unleash its full potential in the battle against non-invasive (superficial) and advanced bladder cancers.
Immunotherapy for non-invasive (superficial) bladder cancer
Our team may recommend immunotherapy following transurethral resection (TUR) as part of your treatment plan if you’ve been diagnosed with non-invasive (superficial) bladder cancer.
First, your doctor will use the TUR procedure to scrape or burn off the cancer from the surface layers of the bladder. Next, you’ll receive an injection of immunotherapy medication into your bladder to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
We offer two forms of immunotherapy for non-invasive bladder cancer:
- Intravesical immunotherapy (BCG): This type of immunotherapy delivers a liquid containing a specific bacterial organism into your bladder through a catheter. The bacterial organism stimulates your body’s natural immune response to destroy the cancer cells. For patients with superficial bladder cancer, this immunotherapy works in up to one-third of cases. If the first course of treatment fails and the cancer stage stays the same or advances, we recommend surgery as the next step.
- Intravesical agents: If you’re not able to have immunotherapy medications, or if they don’t work for you, we can use different medications in their place.
Additional immunotherapy options for bladder cancer
In addition to the intravesical immunotherapy we use for some patients with superficial bladder cancer, our doctors continue to research other forms of immunotherapies, such as antibody therapies and cancer vaccines, as potential options to treat advanced bladder cancer.
Some additional immunotherapy options include:
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: An important part of the immune system is its ability to keep itself from attacking normal cells in the body. To do this, it uses “checkpoints” — proteins on immune cells that need to be turned on (or off) to start an immune response. Cancer cells sometimes use these checkpoints to keep from being attacked by the immune system. But newer drugs that target these checkpoints, called checkpoint inhibitors, can help restore the immune response against cancer cells.
- PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors
- Atezolizumab (Tecentriq), durvalumab (Imfinzi), and avelumab (Bavencio): Drugs that target PD-L1, a protein on cells (including some cancer cells) that helps keep the immune system from attacking them. By blocking PD-L1, these drugs boost the immune system's response against the cancer cells. This can shrink some tumors or slow their growth.
- Nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda): Drugs that target PD-1, a protein on certain immune cells (called T cells) that normally helps keep these cells from attacking other cells in the body. Blocking PD-1 can allow the immune system to attack the cancer cells, which can shrink some tumors or slow their growth.
These drugs can be used in different situations to treat bladder cancer.