Chemotherapy uses anti cancer drugs to destroy cancer. The drugs circulate throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Advanced bladder cancer means the cancer has spread to another part of the body. Chemotherapy for advanced bladder cancer can often shrink the cancer or keep it under control for some time.

The type of chemotherapy treatment you might have is the same used for invasive bladder cancer. 

When do you have it?

Some chemotherapy treatments for advanced bladder cancer can be quite intensive and have a lot of side effects. So when they make treatment decisions, your doctor will think about:

  • how unwell you are because of your cancer
  • what other medical problems you have (such heart, lung or liver problems)
  • what cancer treatment you have had before
  • how well your kidneys are working
  • the side effects of the chemotherapy
  • what other treatment options there are

You can have less intensive types of chemotherapy if the doctor doesn’t think you are well enough to manage the side effects of the more intensive treatments. They can still work very well at shrinking the cancer and slowing its growth. 

The drugs

Some of the common chemotherapy combinations for advanced bladder cancer include:

  • accelerated MVAC (methotrexate, vinblastine, doxorubicin and cisplatin)
  • MVAC
  • Gemcitabine and Cisplatin
  • Gemcitabine and Carboplatin

It’s best to talk to your doctor about what type of chemotherapy treatment they think is most suitable for you and why. 

If you had chemotherapy when you were first treated, your doctor will assess how well the chemotherapy worked for you then. Then they can decide whether it is likely to work well now, or whether other chemotherapy drugs might work better for you.

How you have it

You usually have chemotherapy through a thin plastic tube (cannula) in your arm. You have it through a drip into your bloodstream.

Some types of chemotherapy can be quite intensive. They take a few months and can have a lot of side effects.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
28 Jun 2019
  • Bladder cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2015

  • BMJ Best Practice. Bladder Cancer
    D Lamm and others
    BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, 2018

  • Bladder cancer: ESMO Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    J Bellmunt and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2014. Volume 25, Issue 3, Pages 40-48

  • MDT Guidance for Managing Bladder Cancer (2nd Edition)
    British Uro-oncology Group (BUG) (2013)

  • Bladder Cancer
    J H Ku and others
    Eldevier Inc, 2018

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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