Biologic therapy (also called immunotherapy) uses drugs to improve the way your body fights cancer. The therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can identify and fight cancer cells more effectively. It may be used alone or in combination with other treatments. A common form of biologic therapy is called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG).
BCG is a form of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Biologic therapy uses a weakened form of the bacteria to stimulate the immune system and provoke it into killing the bladder cancer cells. A BCG solution is created and placed directly into the bladder through a catheter. The treatment is repeated weekly for 6 weeks. Some may require a second cycle.
This type of therapy is most effective for superficial bladder cancer. Though biologic therapy uses the body's natural resources it can still cause side effects including fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms. It can also cause irritation to the bladder which can affect the urge and ability to urinate.
In photodynamic therapy (phototherapy, PDT), photosensitizers, or light-sensitive molecules, are injected into the bloodstream. These molecules are absorbed by cells throughout the body but tend to remain longest in cancer cells. When these molecules are exposed to a special red light they cause cell damage and death. A transuretheral cystoscope is used to shine a red laser light onto the tumor. Photodynamic therapy is only effective on localized tumors. PDT may be used alone or in combination with other treatments
The therapy makes cells throughout the body sensitive to sunlight. Certain sun precautions are needed for a period of time after treatment to avoid damage to healthy tissue.
Bladder cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003085-pdf.pdf. Accessed June 30, 2015.
Bladder cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115106/Bladder-cancer. Updated May 6, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.