Bladder cancer research
This page of the bladder cancer section is about research into the causes, prevention and treatments of bladder cancer. You can find the following information
- A quick guide to what's on this page
- Why we need research
- How bladder cancer affects drug break down
- Early diagnosis
- Photodynamic therapy for early bladder cancer
- Surgery research for bladder cancer
Bladder cancer research
All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. And so we know that they are safe.
First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. Only after we know that they are likely to be safe to test are they tested in people, in clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many clinical trials.
There is research looking into prevention and causes of bladder cancer, how to diagnose it earlier, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, combining treatments, biological therapies, and giving drugs into the bladder using an electric current.
All treatments have to be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that
- We can be sure they work
- We can be sure they work better than the treatments that are available at the moment
- We know they are safe
First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. For ethical and safety reasons, experimental treatments must be tested in the laboratory before they can be tried in people. If a treatment described here is said to be at the laboratory stage of research, it is not ready for patients and is not available either within or outside the NHS. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many clinical trials.
Clinical trials test treatments in patients. There are 4 phases of clinical trials. This is fully explained in the trials and research section. If you are interested in taking part in a trial recruiting in the UK, visit our searchable database of clinical trials. If there is a trial you wold like to take part in, print off the page and take it to your own specialist. If the trial is suitable for you, your doctor will need to make the referral to the research team. The database also has information about closed trials and trial results.
All the new approaches covered here are the subject of ongoing research. Until studies are completed and new effective treatments are found, these treatments cannot be used as standard therapy for bladder cancer.
Here is a video on what it's like to take part in a clinical trial:
View a transcript of the video (Opens in a new window)
Some doctors think that bladder cancer might affect the way that drugs are broken down in your body by chemicals called enzymes. It is possible that this change in enzyme activity may affect how well treatment works for people with bladder cancer. The Pittsburgh study has been looking into this. Researchers gave four different drugs to a group of people who went to clinics because they had blood in their urine. These four drugs are not cancer treatments. But the results of the study may affect the way bladder cancer is treated in the future. This study is no longer recruiting and we are waiting for the results.
Doctors are trying some new ways of diagnosing bladder tumours. They include
Bladder cancer is normally found by looking directly into the bladder with a camera (a cystoscopy). Some research is looking at ways to make tumours show up more clearly during cystoscopy. One test is called narrow band imaging (NBI). It uses special computer enhanced cystoscopes which make the blood vessels in tumours easier to see.
Doctors would prefer a less invasive test than cystoscopy, but they need to prove that any new test is accurate and reliable. Doctors in the USA and UK are developing a number of urine tests that may help to pick up a new bladder cancer or one that has come back.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA have approved two of the new tests (the BTA test and NMP22 test). They have not replaced other ways of picking up bladder cancer. The best way to diagnose bladder cancers accurately is still cystoscopy and biopsy. But some doctors are very hopeful that they may be able to use these urine tests in the future, so that people who have had bladder cancer may not have to keep having cystoscopies.
The new tests are the
BTA stands for Bladder Tumour Associated Antigen. This test uses 2 monoclonal antibodies to pick up particular proteins in the urine. If these proteins are there, it could mean that cancer cells have come back in the bladder. This test is very accurate at picking up BTA but the level can be raised by other conditions and not just bladder cancer.
NMP22 stands for Nuclear Matrix Protein (NMP). This is a type of protein found in the nucleus of cells. Some NMPs have been found in some types of cancer cells, including the cells of the most common type of bladder cancer called transitional cell cancer (TCC). These cells release NMP22 into the urine. Most healthy people only have small amounts of NMP22 in their urine, but people with TCC often have a higher than normal level.
The Mcm5 test is a new urine test that appears to be an accurate way of picking up bladder cancer. A trial looked at the Mcm5 test to see if it helped diagnose transitional cell bladder cancer. The trial team found that the Mcm5 urine test was just as reliable and accurate as the NMP22 urine test for diagnosing bladder cancer. Using these two tests together may help improve the diagnosis of bladder cancer and future trials are being prepared to test this.
The HaBIO study is looking at a test to find the cause of blood in the urine. The researchers are using blood and urine samples to develop a test that will show why somebody has blood in their urine. They will take blood and urine samples from people and measure proteins in the samples to see if there are links between these and different causes of haematuria.They hope that by developing a test, in the future fewer people would need a cystoscopy.
Even where these tests are available, you will still need a cystoscopy to diagnose bladder cancer for some time to come.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses an anti cancer drug that only works when light shines on it. Your doctor either puts the drug directly into your bladder (through a catheter) or less commonly you may have it into your bloodstream.
After a few hours, you have a catheter put into your bladder again. The doctor fills your bladder with salt water (saline). Then they shine a special light at the bladder lining. The light activates the drug to kill any cancer cells that are there. The treatment works in 3 ways.
- directly kills the bladder cancer cells
- damages the blood vessels that bring food and oxygen to the tumour
- triggers your immune system to destroy the tumour
This treatment is experimental at the moment. Your specialist is only likely to suggest it if treatment with BCG or chemotherapy treatment into the bladder has not worked for you.
If you have bladder cancer that has grown beyond the innermost lining of the bladder, the usual treatment is an operation to remove the bladder (open radical cystectomy). But it is a complicated operation and people have to stay in hospital for about 3 weeks. It can cause complications in some people, such as wound infection.
Some surgeons now remove the bladder in a different way using a type of keyhole surgery called laparoscopic or robotic cystectomy. But we don’t yet know which type of surgery is best for people with bladder cancer. The BOLERO trial is looking at whether people would be willing to take part in a trial comparing the 2 types of surgery. It also hopes to find out how each type of surgery affects quality of life. This trial is now closed and we are waiting for the results.
The PHOTO trial is comparing white light with blue light during surgery for early bladder cancer. The surgeon usually shines a white light through a cystoscope to see the cancer inside your bladder, and removes it. In this trial, the researchers want to test using a blue light during surgery alongside a liquid put into the bladder. The liquid is absorbed by the cancer cells and glows red under the blue light. This may help the surgeon to see the areas of cancer more clearly. The research team want to find out which light is better at showing up the cancer.
A few different clinical trials are looking into how doctors use radiotherapy to treat bladder cancer. Cancer Research UK is supporting several of these trials.
The SPARE trial is comparing surgery to remove the bladder with radiotherapy after chemotherapy to shrink the bladder. The trial aims to find out which treatment is the best in the long term for invasive bladder cancer. Everyone in the trial has chemotherapy as a first treatment to try to shrink the cancer. Doctors think this may help to get rid of the cancer for good. The trial has closed and we are waiting for the results.
Researchers have looked at using radiotherapy to help stop invasive bladder cancer from coming back after treatment.The BCON trial tried 2 different ways of increasing the amount of oxygen available to the cancer cells during radiotherapy treatment. Cancer cells are more likely to be killed by radiotherapy if they have plenty of oxygen. The researchers found that increasing oxygen levels by taking nicotinamide tablets and wearing a breathing mask for a few minutes before and during each radiotherapy treatment helped people to live longer.
To plan radiotherapy, you usually have a CT scan. This gives your doctor a good idea of the position and shape of your bladder. As the bladder moves slightly depending on how full it is, doctors usually include a small border of healthy tissue in the treatment area so that none of the cancer is missed. The RAIDER trial is a phase 2 trial looking at adaptive radiotherapy. This means the doctor designs different treatment plans and then chooses the one that best fits the bladder on the day of treatment. This may mean that less healthy tissue is in the treatment area, which may result in fewer side effects.
The APPLY study is looking at using a new type of CT scanning to improve radiotherapy treatment for people with invasive bladder cancer. This new type of CT scanning is called a Cone beam CT scan and is taken when you have your radiotherapy treatment. The researchers want to use the Cone beam CT scan pictures to make sure that they can choose the best treatment on that day. This study has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
The IDEAL trial is looking at using a combination of 3 different ways to plan radiotherapy to improve the treatment for bladder cancer. The doctors hope to be able to target the cancer more accurately and give a higher dose of radiotherapy than normal. The trial uses gold seeds placed around the bladder tumour combined with a cone beam CT scan, and an MRI scan to plan the radiotherapy.
The HYBRID trial is helping doctors learn more about weekly radiotherapy for invasive bladder cancer. They are also looking at a new way of planning radiotherapy so people have fewer side effects.
After radiotherapy to the pelvic area, some people can have long term side effects to the bowel such as diarrhoea, a need to rush to the toilet more often than normal or bleeding from the back passage. These side effects happen if the radiotherapy causes a thickening of the tissue in the treatment area, making it less stretchy. This is called radiation fibrosis. Doctors are trying to find ways to relieve the problems caused by this tissue damage.
The HOT II trial is looking at whether using a high pressure oxygen treatment called hyberbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy can help to relieve the long term side effects of radiotherapy to the pelvis. This trial has closed and we are waiting for the results.
The PPALM trial is looking at the use of a palm oil supplement and a drug called pentoxifylline to relieve symptoms caused by pelvic radiotherapy. Doctors think these may work well together to reduce radiation fibrosis. The trial team want to find out if this combination of treatment helps, and to learn more about the side effects.
You can find out more about radiotherapy trials for bladder cancer on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.
Many clinical trials are under way to test new combinations of chemotherapy drugs. Doctors continue to study different combinations, different doses, or different sequences of giving the drugs. The aim of this type of research is to find better ways of treating bladder cancer with chemotherapy. Some of the chemotherapy drugs being used in trials include
- Mitomycin C
- Fluorouracil (5FU)
- Paclitaxel (Taxol)
- Vinflunine (Javlor)
You can click on the links above to find out about these drugs and their side effects.
A trial called BA 11 (EORTC 30987) looked at adding paclitaxel to cisplatin and gemcitabine chemotherapy for bladder cancer and other types of cancers of the urinary system. The early results of the trial showed that the cancer had shrunk or disappeared in more people who had all 3 drugs than in people who had just 2.
A trial looked at a new chemotherapy drug called vinflunine and found that adding it to standard care for people with advanced bladder cancer helped people to live longer. But it also gave quite severe side effects. In early 2010 it was licensed in Europe for people who have advanced transitional cancer and have had other treatments which are no longer working. The organisations within the UK who recommend which treatments should be available within the NHS did not recommend vinflunine. They said it was not cost effective.
Now a phase 3 randomised trial is looking at whether adding vinflunine to gemcitabine treatment works better than gemcitabine alone for people who can't have cisplatin due to poor kidney function. This trial is giving these treatments as first line chemotherapy. It has closed and we are waiting for the results. You can find details of the trial on the UK Clinical Trials Gateway website.
The GO-80 study is looking at combining gemcitabine with oxaliplatin, instead of cisplatin, for transitional cell cancer that has spread. Oxaliplatin is similar to cisplatin but is less likely to damage the kidneys. So doctors hope that it will work as well at controlling the cancer but may cause less side effects. This trial is now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Eribulin mesylate is a chemotherapy drug that's not been used for bladder cancer before. A phase 2 trial is looking at eribulin mesylate for advanced bladder cancer. The researchers are comparing the combination of eribulin mesylate, gemcitabine and cisplatin with gemcitabine and cisplatin. This trial has closed and we are waiting for the results.
The CAB B1 trial is looking at cabazitaxel chemotherapy for advanced transitional cell cancer of the bladder or urinary system. The people taking part have already had treatment with a platinum chemotherapy drug.
The Bristol Bladder Trial is looking at cabazitaxel with cisplatin before surgery to remove bladder cancer. Having chemotherapy before surgery can lower the risk of it coming back in the future. The researchers want to find out how this drug combination works and to learn more about the side effects.
The EORTC 30994 trial looked at the timing of chemotherapy after surgery for invasive bladder cancer. The researchers wanted to find out if it was better to have chemotherapy straight after surgery to try to stop the cancer coming back, or to wait and have chemotherapy if it does come back. The researchers found that having chemotherapy straight after surgery didn't increase the average length of time people lived after treatment. So it is no better than keeping chemotherapy in reserve and having it if the cancer comes back. The researchers think there may be some sub groups of people who could benefit from immediate chemotherapy, but not enough people took part in this trial to know for sure. They suggest more trials look at this for people at very high risk of the cancer coming back. You can read the results of the EORTC 30994 trial on our trials database.
The CALIBER trial is looking at different ways of treating early bladder cancer that has come back after treatment. The researchers are comparing surgery with mitomycin C chemotherapy. They want to find out if mitomycin C is a useful treatment to control cancer growth, and to learn more about the side effects and how treatment affects quality of life.
You can find out more about chemotherapy trials for bladder cancer on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.
Giving chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy is called chemoradiation, or concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The BC2001 trial found that having chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy for bladder cancer that had spread into the muscle helps to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. And it didn't cause more long term side effects.
A phase 2 trial looked at giving gemcitabine at the same time as radiotherapy for invasive bladder cancer. The trial results were that giving radiotherapy and gemcitabine together worked well to treat people with invasive bladder cancer.
Doctors often give treatment directly into the bladder to try to reduce the chances of early stage bladder cancer coming back. Researchers have been looking at ways of improving this type of treatment. One technique being studied is heating the wall of the bladder with a microwave probe, at the same time as putting in the chemotherapy drug mitomycin C. The probe and the chemotherapy are passed into the bladder through a catheter. This is known as hyperthermic mitomycin, intravesical microwave hyperthermia with intravesical chemotherapy, or the Synergo technique.
This heat treatment appears to make the cancer cells more sensitive to the chemotherapy and doctors hope this will make the chemotherapy work better and improve results. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has announced that this procedure could be used, either before or after surgery, for bladder cancer that has not grown further than the bladder lining. But it can only be done as a part of clinical research. NICE says there is not enough evidence for how well this procedure works to make it more widely available. This treatment has sometimes worked well for people with high grade, early bladder cancer after BCG treatment into the bladder has not worked. It may help people in this situation to avoid having their bladder removed.
The HYMN trial is looking at standard treatment and hyperthermia for people with early stage transitional cell bladder cancer. The people taking part have bladder cancer that has come back after initial treatment. The aim of the trial is to compare standard treatment with hyperthermia and mitomycin C chemotherapy to see which is better at controlling cancer growth. This trial is no longer recruiting patients and we are waiting for the results.
The HIVEC II trial is also comparing hyperthermia and mitomycin C with mitomycin C alone. This trial is for people with newly diagnosed bladder cancer or bladder cancer that has come back after initial treatment.
Biological therapy uses natural body substances, or drugs developed from them, to fight cancer. We have a separate section about biological therapies. There are many trials looking at biological therapies for bladder cancer and Cancer Research UK is supporting many of them. The drugs being researched include
Research has been looking at interferon in combination with low doses of the commonly used bladder cancer treatment, BCG. Results from early phase trials show that interferon can help to slow down or stop cancer from coming back again in people whose cancer has already come back after previous BCG treatment.
Sorafenib is also called Nexavar. Some early phase trials in Europe and America are looking at how well combination treatment (with gemcitabine, cisplatin, and sorafenib) works in people with advanced bladder cancer or cancer that has spread.
The LaMB trial is looking at lapatinib (Tyverb) after chemotherapy for people with bladder cancer that has spread. The people taking part have advanced bladder cancer which has responded to chemotherapy. Their cancer cells have a large number of HER1 or HER2 receptors, or both. These are proteins found on some cancer cells. Lapatinib attaches to cells that have HER1 or HER 2 receptors, stopping them from telling the cells to grow. Doctors hope that the lapatinib can control the cancer for longer. This trial has closed and we are waiting for the results.
Nintedanib (BIBF 1120) stops signals that cancer cells use to grow. The NEOBLADE trial is looking at nintedanib with gemcitabine and cisplatin chemotherapy. The people taking part have invasive bladder cancer that has not spread. The researchers want to find out if it's helpful to give nintedanib with chemotherapy, to find the best dose to give to people whose kidneys aren't working well, and to learn more about the side effects of the drug.
The PLUTO trial is looking at pazopanib (Votrient) for transitional cell cancer of the urinary system that did not go away or has come back after chemotherapy. The aims of this trial are to see if pazopanib is better at treating this type of cancer than the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, and to learn about the side effects. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.
Temsirolimus is a type of cancer growth blocker called an mTOR inhibitor. The ToTem trial is looking at temsirolimus with the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and gemcitabine to treat transitional cell cancer of the bladder, centre of the kidney (renal pelvis), ureters or urethra. The trial is for people whose cancer has spread into surrounding tissue (locally advanced) or to another part of the body. The researchers want to find out if this combination of treatment works in treating advanced transitional cell cancer, what the side effects are and the best dose to give.
Cetuximab is a type of monoclonal antibody. It is already being used to treat bowel cancer and head and neck cancers. And it is being looked at in trials for several other types of cancer. The TUXEDO trial is an early trial looking at cetuximab with radiotherapy and chemotherapy for bladder cancer that has grown into the muscle layer (invasive bladder cancer).
Pembrolizumab is another type of monoclonal antibody. It helps the immune system to kill cancer cells. A trial is comparing pembrolizumab with chemotherapy for cancer of the urinary tract that has come back or continued to grow despite treatment. The researchers want to find out if pembrolizumab is a better treatment than chemotherapy, to learn more about the side effects of pembrolizumab and how treatment affects your day to day life. Read about pembrolizumab (Keytruda).
One study is looking at a new drug called TKI258 to treat transitional cell cancer that has spread into the surrounding tissue (is locally advanced) or to another part of the body. TKI258 is a type of biological therapy called a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI). Tyrosine kinase is a chemical messenger (an enzyme) that sends messages to cells to tell them to grow and divide. Blocking the effect of tyrosine kinase may stop cancer cells from growing and spreading. The aims of this study are to find out if TKI258 can help people with advanced transitional cell cancer and what side effects it may cause. This trial is no longer recruiting patients and we are waiting for the results.
A drug called MPDL3280A may help the immune system to stop or slow down cancer growth. There is a trial looking at MPDL3280A for transitional cell cancer of the urinary system that has grown into surrounding tissue or has spread to another part of the body. The researchers want to see how helpful this drug is for this type of cancer, and to learn more about the side effects. This trial is closed and we are waiting for the results.
You can find out more about biological therapy trials for bladder cancer on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.
The BOXIT trial is looking into whether adding a drug called celecoxib to standard treatment for superficial transitional cell bladder cancer helps to stop the cancer coming back. Celecoxib is a type of non steroidal anti inflammatory drug known as a COX 2 inhibitor. These drugs block the action of a protein that may help cancers to grow. This trial is no longer recruiting patients and we are waiting for the results.
The MARBLE study is looking at some new scans to see if they can show how well treatment has worked in people having chemotherapy before surgery or radiotherapy for bladder cancer. One of the scans is a type of MRI scan called a functional MRI (fMRI). The other is a new type of PET-CT scan, called a FLT PET-CT. The researchers want to see if these new scans are better than CT scans at showing how a cancer is responding to treatment early on.
People who have been successfully treated for bladder cancer are at risk of the cancer coming back in their bladder. They could also develop another cancer. This could be in the bladder or in other parts of the urinary tract system, such as the tubes that the urine flows down (ureters) or the lining of the kidneys.
The SELENIB trial is looking at whether adding selenium or vitamin E, or both, to your diet can help to stop early bladder cancer coming back after treatment.
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