BCG stands for Bacillius Calmette-Guerin. It's a vaccine which is a type of immunotherapy medicine.
Usually you have BCG into the bladder if you have a high risk of early bladder cancer coming back or spreading into the deeper layers of your bladder.
What is BCG
BCG is a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). It is also very good at helping to stop or delay bladder cancers growing back or spreading into the deeper layers of the bladder.
The vaccine contains a bacteria which has been weakened so that it can be used as a medicine.
We are not quite sure how BCG works for bladder cancer. It seems to encourage cells of the immune system to grow and become very active in the bladder lining. These cells probably kill off any cancer cells that might grow back or have been left behind. This is called immunotherapy.
BCG helps to stop bladder cancers coming back in many people.
When you have it
You usually have BCG into the bladder once a week for 6 weeks. This is called the induction course.
You may then have BCG into the bladder every few weeks or months for the next 1 to 3 years. This will depend on your risk of developing invasive bladder cancer. This is called maintenance BCG therapy.
Where you have BCG
You usually have treatment at the cancer day clinic.
Before you start BCG
Before each treatment, you need to stop drinking fluids. This stops the urine from diluting the drug in your bladder and will help you hold the BCG more easily. Your hospital will tell you when to stop drinking.
On the day a nurse will check your urine to see if you have any infection. You also see the doctor.
How you have it
BCG is a liquid. Your doctor or nurse puts the liquid into your bladder through a tube in the urethra (catheter). Usually, they then remove the catheter.
You must not pass urine for 2 hours. This gives the BCG time to be in contact with the lining of the bladder. Some hospitals may ask you to change position every now and again to make sure the drug reaches all parts of your bladder lining.
When you do pass urine, you need to be careful for 6 hours after the treatment because the vaccine contains bacteria. Men should sit down to pass urine to reduce the chance of splashing.
After you've been to the toilet, pour about half a pint of neat bleach into the toilet bowl and leave it for 15 minutes before flushing.
Wash your hands and genitals immediately with warm soapy water after you pass urine.
When you go home
Some hospitals allow you to go home with the medicine in your bladder if you live close by and are okay with the treatment. Your team will let you know if you can do this. You should follow the advice on what to do when you pass urine.
You need to drink lots of fluid (2-3 litres) after this treatment for 24 hours. It helps clear your system of the BCG.
You should not have sex for 24 hours after each treatment. During your course of treatment and for a week afterwards, you should wear a condom during sex.
Having bladder cancer and its treatment can be difficult to cope with. Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects that you have. The nurse will give you telephone numbers to call if you have any problems at home.
Possible side effects
You might get some side effects with this treatment. These might include:
- having an irritated bladder, which feels a bit like having a urine infection
- passing urine more often and more urgently than usual
- having blood or debris in your urine
- flu-like symptoms for 24 to 48 hours after each treatment
- discomfort and pain when passing urine
If you have any of these symptoms, tell your doctor or specialist nurse. They might be able to help ease and treat these side effects.
There is also a very small chance that some of the BCG could get into your system. You might get symptoms such as:
- fever and chills
- joint or muscle pain
- feeling sick or vomiting
- skin rash
- feeling extremely tired