Decorative image

Chemotherapy into the bladder

Find out about having chemotherapy through a flexible tube (catheter) into your bladder.

Your doctor may call this treatment intravesical chemotherapy.

Having chemotherapy into the bladder reduces the chance of the cancer coming back or spreading into the deeper layers of the bladder.

When you have it

You might have chemotherapy into your bladder as a one off (single dose) after a trans urethral resection of your bladder tumour (TURBT). For some people with early bladder cancer, this is all the treatment they need.

If you have a moderate risk of your cancer coming back, you have this treatment once a week for 6 weeks.

You may also have this treatment if your cancer comes back after the initial surgery and chemotherapy treatment.

How you have it

Single dose

You have a flexible tube (catheter) put through your urethra and into your bladder. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body.

Your doctor or specialist nurse puts a liquid chemotherapy drug into the tube. The drug may be:

  • mitomycin C
  • epirubicin 
  • doxorubicin
Diagram showing how you have drug treatment into the bladder

Your doctor or nurse may then remove the catheter.

You have to try not to pass any urine for the next 2 hours. This gives the chemotherapy drugs time to be in contact with the lining of the bladder.

You then pass urine naturally to get rid of the chemotherapy drug. Or your nurse may drain it out through a catheter.

Once a week for 6 weeks

You may need to stop drinking fluids for up to 12 hours before the treatment. This stops the urine from diluting the drug.

You have a catheter put through your urethra and into your bladder. Your doctor or specialist nurse puts a liquid chemotherapy drug into the catheter.

You usually keep the drug in the bladder for an hour. During this time you need to change position every now and again to make sure the drug reaches all parts of your bladder. Then your nurse will drain the liquid out through the catheter. 

For 6 hours after the treatment, you have to be careful when you pass urine so that you don't get it on your skin. Men should sit down to pass urine, to reduce the chance of splashing. The urine contains some chemicals from the chemotherapy which could irritate your skin. 

If urine does get on your skin you need to thoroughly wash the area with soap and water but don't scrub it.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment at the cancer day clinic.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

Side effects

You get fewer side effects having chemotherapy into your bladder than you would having chemotherapy into a vein. This is because the drug tends to stay in your bladder. So very little of it gets into your bloodstream.

The main side effect is irritation of your bladder. You may feel as if you have a bad urine infection (cystitis). This can make you want to pass urine very often, and passing urine may feel uncomfortable.

About 1 out of 10 people (10%) develop a rash on their hands or feet for a short time after having this treatment.

When you go home

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.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.