Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Surgery is by far the most widely used treatment for bladder cancer. It is used for all types and stages of bladder cancer. Several different types of surgery are used. Which type is used in any situation depends largely on the stage of the tumor. Many surgical procedures are available today that have not gained widespread acceptance. They can be difficult to perform, and good outcomes are best achieved by those who perform many of these surgeries per year. The types of surgery are as follows:
Transurethral resection with fulguration: In this operation, an instrument
(resectoscope) is inserted through the urethra and into the bladder. A small
wire loop on the end of the instrument then removes the tumor by cutting it or
burning it with electrical current (fulguration). This is usually performed
for the initial diagnosis of bladder cancer and for the treatment of stages Ta
and T1 cancers. Often, after transurethral resection, additional treatment is
given (for example, intravesical therapy) to help treat the bladder cancer.
Radical cystectomy: In this
operation, the entire bladder is removed, as well as its surrounding lymph
nodes and other structures that may contain cancer. This is usually performed
for cancers that have at least invaded into the muscular layer of the bladder
wall or for more superficial cancers that extend over much of the bladder or
that have failed to respond to more conservative treatments. Occasionally, the
bladder is removed to relieve severe urinary symptoms.
Segmental or partial cystectomy: In this operation, part of the bladder is removed. This is usually performed for solitary low-grade tumors that have invaded the bladder wall but are limited to a small area of the bladder.
As the name implies, radical cystectomy is major surgery. Not only the entire bladder but also other structures are removed.
In men, the prostate and seminal vesicles (small tubes that carry semen from the prostate to the penis) are removed.
This operation stops production of semen and may affect your sexual function.
However, nerve-sparing techniques can spare erectile function in some men
In women, the womb (uterus), ovaries, and part of the vagina are removed. This permanently stops menstruation, and you
can no longer become pregnant. The operation may also interfere with sexual
and urinary functions.
Removal of the bladder is complicated because it
requires creation of a new pathway for urine to leave the body. This is called
urinary diversion. Some people wear a bag outside their body to collect urine.
Others have a small pouch made inside the body to collect urine. The pouch is
usually made by a surgeon from a small piece of the intestine. Most patients
(both men and women) are candidates for continent urinary tract reconstruction
so that volitional (voluntary) voiding may be restored.
Surgeons and medical oncologists are working together to find ways to avoid radical cystectomy. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may allow some patients to preserve their bladder; however, the toxicity of the therapy is significant, with many patients requiring surgery to remove the bladder at a later date.
If your urologist recommends surgery as treatment for your bladder cancer, be sure you understand the type of surgery you will have and what effects the surgery will have on your life.
Even if the surgeon believes that the entire cancer is removed by the
operation, many people who undergo surgery for bladder cancer receive
chemotherapy after the surgery. This "adjuvant" chemotherapy is designed to kill
any cancer cells remaining after surgery and to increase the chance of a cure.
Some patients may receive chemotherapy before radical cystectomy. This is called "neoadjuvant" chemotherapy and may be recommended by your surgeon and oncologist. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy can kill any microscopic cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body and can also shrink the tumor in your bladder before surgery.
If it has been decided that you need chemotherapy in conjunction with your radical cystectomy, the decision to elect neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy will be made together on a case-by-case basis by the patient, medical oncologist, and urologic oncologist.