Radiation therapy for bladder cancer
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill or damage cancer cells. The radiation is usually in the form of x-ray beams. Radiation therapy to treat bladder cancer is used as part of trimodal therapy, either on its own or combined with chemotherapy.
You will meet with the radiation oncology team to plan your treatment. It is common to have more imaging scans to help pinpoint the exact area to receive the radiation. During a radiation therapy session, you will lie on an examination table and a machine will direct the radiation towards your bladder. The treatment is painless and can’t be seen or felt.
Radiation therapy for bladder cancer can cause temporary side effects, including needing to urinate more often and more urgently, burning when you pass urine, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and soreness around the anus. Symptoms tend to build up during treatment and usually start improving over a few weeks after treatment ends.
Less commonly, radiation therapy may permanently affect the bowel or bladder. Bowel motions may be more frequent and looser, and damage to the bladder lining (radiation cystitis) can cause blood in the urine.
Radiation therapy for males may cause poor erections and make ejaculation uncomfortable for some months after treatment. For females, radiation therapy can cause the vagina to become drier, narrower and shorter. See some ways to manage these changes.
For more on this, see our general section on Radiation therapy.
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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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