Immunotherapy for advanced bladder cancer
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. BCG is a type of immunotherapy treatment that has been used for many years to treat non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer. A newer group of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors work by helping the immune system to recognise and attack the cancer.
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Checkpoint immunotherapy drugs
Some people with advanced bladder cancer may have checkpoint immunotherapy drugs such as pembrolizumab or avelumab after a course of chemotherapy. The drugs are given directly into a vein through a drip (infusion) and the treatment is repeated every 2–6 weeks. How many infusions you receive will depend on how you respond to the drug.
Some drugs may be available through clinical trials for people with bladder cancer that has come back or not responded to treatment. Ask your doctor about recent developments in drugs for bladder cancer and whether a clinical trial may be an option for you.
Side effects of immunotherapy
Like all treatments, checkpoint inhibitors can cause side effects. Because these drugs act on the immune system, they can sometimes cause the immune system to attack healthy cells in any part of the body. This can lead to a variety of side effects such as skin rash, diarrhoea, breathing problems, inflammation of the liver, hormone changes and temporary arthritis. Your doctor will discuss possible side effects with you.
To learn more see Immunotherapy.
Video: What is immunotherapy?
Podcast: Immunotherapy & Targeted Therapy
Prof Dickon Hayne, Professor of Urology, UWA Medical School, The University of Western Australia, Chair of the Bladder, Urothelial and Penile Cancer Subcommittee, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, and Head of Urology, South Metropolitan Health Service, WA; A/Prof Tom Shakespeare, Director, Radiation Oncology, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Lismore Public Hospitals, NSW; Helen Anderson, Genitourinary Cancer Nurse Navigator (CNS), Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; BEAT Bladder Cancer Australia; Mark Jenkin, Consumer; Dr Ganessan Kichenadasse, Lead, SA Cancer Clinical Network, Commission of Excellence and Innovation in Health, and Medical Oncologist, Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, SA; A/Prof James Lynam, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Jack McDonald, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer and Blood Disorders, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Prof Shomik Sengupta, Consultant Urologist, Eastern Health and Professor of Surgery, Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University, VIC.
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