What to Know About BCG Treatment for Bladder Cancer

What to Know About BCG Treatment for Bladder Cancer 

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, we understand that you have questions and concerns. One of your main concerns is likely about treatment. There are multiple treatment options available, and one option for those with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is called BCG treatment, or Bacille Calmette-Guerin. Using a weakened form of the tuberculosis vaccine that is put into the bladder, BCG is an effective treatment option against bladder cancer. Your doctor may incorporate BCG with a variety of other treatment methods to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

BCG treatment vial

Learn more about BCG below, and do not forget to check out the story of Mike Bartlett and his daughter Kristin Hoisington who both started BCG treatments together.

What Is BCG and How Does It Treat Bladder Cancer?

BCG is a weakened form of the tuberculosis bacteria. It has been proven as an effective vaccine against tuberculosis. It also has a strong impact on the body’s immune system, particularly when it comes to cancer cells. Your doctor or urologist would insert BCG directly into the bladder, stimulating your immune system to attack the tumor. The BCG solution needs to come in direct contact with the cancer cells lining your bladder to be able to kill them. During an office visit, your healthcare provider will place liquid containing BCG in the bladder. This treatment process will not have an impact on the cells in other parts of your body. Your immune system will be stimulated to attack the cancer cells in the lining of your bladder. You will have to hold the BCG solution in your bladder for two hours. This treatment is repeated for six weeks, this is called the induction period. If the BCG treatment is working, your doctor may prescribe maintenance therapy to continue to protect your bladder.

Due to the ongoing shortage of TICE BCG, please speak with your healthcare team about the availability of BCG for a full dose induction. For many patients, a reduced dose of BCG may be adequate to trigger the desired immune response. This allows more patients to have access to this important treatment.

What Are the Side Effects?

You may experience some mild side effects. Some of the most common side effects include:

  • You may feel a bit tired after the procedure.
  • You may feel a burning sensation when you use the bathroom once the treatment is done.
  • You might notice some mild blood in your urine immediately after the procedure.
  • You may experience some flu-like symptoms (low grade fever, muscle, or joint pain) for a few days.

If you have concerns about side effects or develop severe pain, high fever, or other signs of infection, reach out to your doctor right away.

Bladder cancer patient Damien shares his experience with BCG treatment: “I have responded well to my BCG treatments without minimal side effects. I’ve only experienced flu-like symptoms later in the afternoon after getting the instillation and of course than is some blood in my urine that day, but it’s faint. The following day I’m feeling like myself again.”

What Are the Top Benefits of BCG Treatment for Bladder Cancer?

If the doctor decides that this treatment option is right for you, there are several significant benefits to keep in mind. They include:

  • This is a relatively non-invasive treatment process.
  • It can help you save your bladder and prevent the spread of cancer cells to other parts of your body.
  • It does not require any other medications to work effectively.
  • It stimulates the immune system to attack cancer cells without attacking healthy cells.

When Is BCG Used for Bladder Cancer?

BCG is used to treat specific types of cancer, specifically high-grade (aggressive) non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) and carcinoma in situ (CIS).

The first step in the treatment process is to remove all visible cancer cells from the bladder. Typically, this is done using a transurethral resection of the tumor (TURBT). There are some situations where this might require more than one surgical procedure, but your doctor will do everything they can to remove as much of a tumor as possible.

Once done, the bladder will be given a chance to heal. Then, it might be time to go with BCG. This is an intravesical treatment option. That means BCG liquid is inserted directly into the bladder.

Once in the bladder, the BCG treatment will stimulate the immune system. Your immune cells will respond to fight cancer cells in the bladder. BCG is considered an immunotherapy because it uses your immune system to fight the cancer without harming healthy cells.  Because BCG treatment uses live bacteria, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider about reducing the risk of contamination when you empty the solution from your bladder into the toilet at home.

Explore More Bladder Cancer Treatment Information

Even though there is a lot to think about when it comes to bladder cancer treatment, this is not something you need to figure out on your own. There are plenty of resources and support available to you, in addition to your healthcare team. Use our treatment comparison tool, get matched to a survivor, and find a support group near you.

You can also listen to a podcast about how the BCG shortage is impacting bladder cancer patients below.