Bladder cancer research

Researchers around the world are looking at better ways to diagnose and treat bladder cancer.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for bladder cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

When in the trials database, click on both the recruiting and closed tabs at the top of the page.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments have to be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are known to be safe

Research into diagnosis and early detection

Researchers want to improve ways of diagnosing bladder cancer. And to help diagnose bladder cancer earlier.

Urine tests

Doctors normally diagnose bladder cancer by looking directly into the bladder with a camera (cystoscopy). They would prefer a less invasive test than cystoscopy. They are developing urine tests that may help:

  • diagnose a new bladder cancer
  • look for cancer that has come back
  • screen for bladder cancer in people who don’t have symptoms

Doctors currently use some urine tests in combination with surgery (TURBT) to diagnose bladder cancer. These tests include:

  • NMP22 test – this measures a type of protein called Nuclear Matrix Protein (NMP) which can be found in some types of cancer cells
  • UroVysion test – this looks for chromosome changes that are often seen in bladder cancer cells
  • ImmunoCyt test (fluorescent immunohistochemistry) – this looks for certain substances which are often found in some cancer cells

Researchers are looking at some types of urine tests in clinical trials. These tests include:

  • MCM5 test – this looks for the MCM5 protein which is found in dividing cells
  • biomarker tests – these are substances in the urine or blood that can help diagnose cancer early or can show if treatment is working
  • cell free DNA testing (cfDNA) - this type of DNA can be found in urine and blood and might help doctors diagnose 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 urine tests in the future. This would mean that people who have had bladder cancer may not have to keep having cystoscopies. 

Dogs detecting cancer

Researchers are looking at whether dogs can help diagnose bladder cancer. They want to see whether dogs can be trained to smell bladder cancer in samples of urine.

Research into treatment


Researchers are looking at ways to improve surgery for both early and invasive bladder cancer. Research includes:

  • comparing open surgery to robotic surgery to remove your bladder – for open surgery you have a large cut in your tummy, and for robotic surgery, you have several small cuts in your tummy and the surgeon uses a robotic machine
  • testing a blue light during surgery to remove early bladder cancer to see if it shows up areas of cancer more clearly than a white light
  • using a detailed MRI scan instead of a TURBT to help diagnose some invasive bladder cancers
  • finding out how people decide whether to have a new bladder (neobladder) or a bag to collect urine (urostomy) and what their quality of life is like after the surgery


Researchers are looking at how they plan radiotherapy so they can target your bladder cancer more accurately. They want to give the highest dose of radiotherapy possible to the cancer and get less healthy tissue in the treatment area. This could mean you have fewer side effects.


Past trials have found which combinations of chemotherapy drugs work well for bladder cancer, and when to give them. Current trials are looking more closely at:

  • comparing chemotherapy to surgery for early bladder cancer
  • different chemotherapy drugs, such as cabazitaxel and SGI-110
  • chemotherapy for advanced bladder cancer

Doctors often give chemotherapy or BCG treatment directly into the bladder for early bladder cancer. Researchers have been looking at heating the chemotherapy to see if it works better. This is called hyperthermia treatment.

Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to grow and survive. Some seek out and destroy cancer cells. Others help the body's immune system to attack the cancer. So some of these drugs are also called immunotherapies.

Researchers are looking at targeted drugs and immunotherapy:

  • combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or BCG treatment
  • into the vein or into the bladder, for early bladder cancer
  • before and after surgery for invasive bladder cancer
  • for advanced bladder cancer

Trials are looking at the following drugs:

  • nintedanib
  • pembrolizumab
  • nivolumab
  • cabozantinib
  • rucaparib
  • enzalutamide
  • atezolizumab
  • durvalumab
  • avelumab

Using viruses to treat cancer

Early research shows that giving a strain of the common cold virus (coxsackieviurs) directly into the bladder might help treat early bladder cancer. It has also shown that it might reduce the side effects compared to today’s current treatment.

More research is needed to decide if this new treatment works as well as the current.

Research into preventing cancer coming back


There is a risk of bladder cancer coming back after treatment. You could also develop another cancer in the bladder or in other parts of the urinary tract system.

Researchers are looking at whether adding the nutrients selenium, vitamin E or both to your diet can help stop early bladder cancer coming back after treatment.

Last reviewed: 
05 Jul 2019
  • Recent Developments in the Search for Urinary Biomarkers in Bladder Cancer
    A Leiblich
    Current Urology Reports, 2017. Volume 18, Issue 12, Page 100

  • The Prevalence and Impact of Urinary Marker Testing in Patients with Bladder Cancer
    V M Narayan and others
    The Journal of Urology, 2018. Volume 199, Issue 1, Pages 74 – 80

  • Bladder tumour antigen (BTA stat) test compared to the urine cytology in the diagnosis of bladder cancer: A meta-analysis
    A Guo and others
    Canadian Urological Association Journal, 2014. Volume 8, Issue 5 – 6, Pages E347 – E352

  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Database
    Accessed November 2018

    Accessed November 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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