Radiation therapy for bladder cancer

Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, uses radiation such as x-rays or electron beams to damage or kill cancer cells. It may be used instead of surgery to treat muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

On its own, radiation therapy may not cure the cancer. Sometimes, chemotherapy is given with radiation therapy to make the radiation work better. This is called chemoradiation, and has been shown to work as well as surgery.

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How is radiation therapy given?

During a radiation therapy session, you will lie on an examination table and a machine will direct the radiation towards your body. The treatment is painless and can’t be seen or felt. Radiation therapy is usually given from Monday to Friday for several weeks. You will meet with the radiation oncology team to plan your treatment.

People who have chemoradiation will need to have regular cystoscopies after treatment. See Follow-up appointments for more information.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy for bladder cancer can cause temporary side effects, including skin redness and soreness, burning when you pass urine, small bladder capacity (so you need to go to the toilet frequently) fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and soreness around the anus.

Less commonly, radiation therapy may permanently affect the bowel or bladder. More frequent and looser bowel motions may occur. You may also have damage to the lining of the bladder. This is known as radiation cystitis, which can cause blood in the urine.

Video: What is radiation therapy?

Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.

This information was last reviewed in February 2018
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