Learning About BCG Therapy for Bladder Cancer

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Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that affects the bladder. Traditional treatments often include chemotherapy, immunotherapy and different types of surgeries. When this type of cancer is caught and treated early, the prognosis is generally good. BCG therapy for bladder cancer is one of the treatments that may be used as part of a treatment regimen. This type of therapy is known as biotherapy or immunotherapy.

How Does BCG Therapy Work?

How this therapy works to treat this cancer is not clear. It is believed that it may cause bladder wall inflammation or an immune response that kills cancer cells in the bladder. While it is sometimes used for early stage cancers, it is most often used to prevent recurrence of noninvasive bladder cancer. Doctors most often prescribe this treatment after they have performed transurethral resection surgery to remove the cancer from the bladder. The BCG, or bacillus Calmette-Guerin solution contains, weakened, live bacteria capable of killing the cancer cells by stimulating the immune system.

How is This Therapy Administered?

This therapy is administered into the bladder via urinary catheter. Four hours before the procedure, patients should limit fluid intake. Immediately following and prior to the procedure, the patient will empty his or her bladder. During this time, a urinalysis is typically performed.

The solution will remain in the bladder for two hours. As the solution remains in the bladder the patient will have to lie on his or her stomach, side and back for 15 minute intervals. Positions are changed like this to allow the solution to thoroughly coat the entire bladder.

Treatment usually lasts for about six weeks and is given once a week. Once this course is complete, over the next two years, patients may continue to receive treatment every three to six months.

Possible Side Effects

The side effects tend to be mild. Common side effects may include urinary incontinence, changes in urination, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, skin rash, loss or appetite, fatigue, joint aches or fever.

In more severe cases, patients may experience abscess or hepatitis, lung tissue inflammation, obstruction of the ureters or contraction of the bladder, low white blood cell count, disseminated tuberculosis, blood in the urine, allergic reaction to BCG, or in men, infection and inflammation of the testicles, epididymis or prostate.


Patients with weakened immune systems should use caution when undergoing BCG therapy for bladder cancer. This includes patients receiving certain treatments that are known to compromise the immune system, such as certain cancer medications, immunosuppressants and radiation therapy, and patients with certain medical conditions, such as HIV and AIDS.


American Cancer Society. (2010). Intravesical Therapy. Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from the American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BladderCancer/DetailedGuide/bladder-cancer-treating-intravesical-therapy

WebMD. (2009). Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) for Bladder Cancer. Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/cancer/bladder-cancer/bacillus-calmette-guerin-bcg-for-bladder-cancer