Bladder Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about bladder cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

  • Minimally invasive cystectomy. Several studies are underway to find out whether laparoscopic or robotic bladder removal is as safe and effective as standard surgery. Learn more about this type of surgery in the Treatment Options section.

  • Lymph node dissection. A study sponsored by the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) is looking at whether removing more lymph nodes than is standard practice, called extended lymph node dissection, can improve a patient’s prognosis and outcome.

  • Molecular tumor testing. Tests to identify changes to genes or proteins that could be a sign of bladder cancer may help predict a bladder cancer recurrence or predict which patients may need more intense treatment. DNA changes may also help predict prognosis for people with bladder cancer. Tumor genetics are becoming more and more important for the treatment of people with bladder cancer because test results may help doctors choose the best treatment options. Which new treatments are available depends on the genetic changes found in the tumor. (see “Targeted therapy” below.)

  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. This type of treatment blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy cells. Research is underway to find out how targeted therapy may be used to treat bladder cancer. For instance, a clinical trial is looking at combining targeted therapy with radiation therapy to help preserve bladder function. Learn more about the basics of targeted therapy.

  • Immunotherapy. As mentioned in Treatment Options, immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function. An active area of immunotherapy research is looking at drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat advanced cancer. These drugs block proteins called PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA-4. These proteins are found on the surface of T cells, which are a type of white blood cell that directly helps the body’s immune system fight disease. Because PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA-4 keep the immune system from destroying cancer cells, stopping them from working allows the immune system to better eliminate the disease. Several drugs that block the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway have received FDA approval to treat bladder cancer (see Treatment Options). Other research is underway in this area. Learn more about the basics of immunotherapy.

  • New drug combinations. As described in the Treatment Options section, researchers are studying new combinations of chemotherapies and other drugs.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find a better way of reducing symptoms and side effects of current bladder cancer treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding bladder cancer, explore these related items:

  • To find clinical trials specific to your diagnosis, talk with your doctor or search online clinical trial databases now.

  • Visit the Cancer.Net Blog to read reviews of recent research in bladder cancer and to listen to podcasts with expert perspectives on the topic.

  • Visit the website of the Conquer Cancer Foundation to find out how to help support cancer research. Please note that this link takes you to a separate ASCO website. 

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.