Immunotherapy is treatment that uses the body’s own natural defences (immune system) to fight disease. Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is a vaccine that was originally used to treat tuberculosis. It can also stimulate a person’s immune system to stop or delay bladder cancer coming back or becoming invasive.
Learn more about:
- How is BCG given?
- Ongoing BCG treatment
- Side effects of BCG
- BCG and safety at home
- Video: What are immunotherapy and targeted therapy?
How is BCG given?
The combination of BCG and TURBT is the most effective treatment for high-risk non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer. BCG is given once a week for six weeks, starting 2–4 weeks after TURBT surgery. It is put directly into the bladder through a catheter. You may be asked to change position every 15 minutes so the vaccine washes over the entire bladder. This is usually done as a day procedure in hospital, and each treatment session takes up to two hours.
Your treatment team will outline some safety measures to follow afterwards at home. This is because BCG is a vaccine that contains live bacteria, which can harm healthy people.
|Let your doctor know of any other medicines or complementary therapies you are using, as they may interfere with how well the bladder cancer responds to BCG. For example, the drug warfarin (a blood thinner) is known to interact with BCG.|
Ongoing BCG treatment
For most people, the initial course of weekly BCG treatments is followed by what is known as maintenance BCG. Maintenance treatment with BCG reduces the risk of the disease coming back or spreading. Maintenance treatment can last for 1–3 years, but treatment sessions become much less frequent (e.g. once a month). Ask your doctor for further details.
Side effects of BCG
Common side effects of BCG include needing to urinate more often; burning or pain when urinating; blood in the urine; a mild fever; and tiredness. These side effects usually last a couple of days after each BCG treatment session.
Less often, the BCG may spread through the body and can affect any organ. If you develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever over 38°C that lasts longer than 72 hours, pain in your joints, a cough, a skin rash, tiredness, or yellow skin (jaundice), contact your nurse or doctor immediately.
A BCG infection can be treated with medicines. Very rarely, BCG can cause infections in the lungs or other organs months or years after treatment. If you are diagnosed with an infection in the future, it is important to tell the doctor that you had BCG treatment.
BCG and safety at home
Video: What are immunotherapy and targeted therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about targeted therapy and immunotherapy
Podcast: What are Immunotherapy & Targeted Therapy
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Dickon Hayne, UWA Medical School, The University of Western Australia, and Head, Urology, South Metropolitan Health Service, WA; BEAT Bladder Cancer Australia; Dr Anne Capp, Senior Staff Specialist, Radiation Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Marc Diocera, Genitourinary Nurse Consultant, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Peter Heathcote, Senior Urologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Adjunct Professor, Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre, QLD; Melissa Le Mesurier, Consumer; Dr James Lynam, Medical Oncologist Staff Specialist, Calvary Mater Newcastle and The University of Newcastle, NSW; John McDonald, Consumer; Michael Twycross, Consumer; Rosemary Watson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria.
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