Bladder Cancer Radiation

  • Michael Kuettel, MD, PhD, MBA, and RPCI's team of radiation oncologists use two types of radiation therapy to treat bladder cancer.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Like surgery, radiation therapy is local therapy. It affects cancer cells only in the treated area. Radiation therapy may be part of your treatment plan before surgery to shrink the tumor first, after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, or for patients unable to undergo surgical treatment.

At Roswell Park, a team of 10 radiation oncologists and 16 medical physicists and dosimetrists work together in one location to develop the optimal treatment plan for each patient. A small number of them may have radiation therapy before surgery to shrink the tumor. Others may have it after surgery to kill cancer cells that may remain in the area. Sometimes, patients who cannot have surgery will opt for radiation therapy.

RPCI offers two types of radiation therapy to treat bladder cancer:

  • External Radiation: External beam radiation is focused from a source outside the body on the area affected by the cancer. There are many types of external beam radiation methods, including Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), which allows different parts of the tumor and surrounding tissue to receive different doses of radiation. This reduces radiation damage to tissues near the tumor and improves effectiveness by increasing the dose of radiation delivered to the cancer.
  • Internal Radiation or Brachytherapy: The doctor places a small container of a radioactive substance into the bladder through the urethra or through an incision in the abdomen. The patient stays in the hospital for several days during this treatment. To protect others from radiation exposure, patients may not be able to have visitors or may have visitors for only a short period of time while the implant is in place. Once the implant is removed, no radioactivity is left.