Bladder Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about bladder 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 exploring whether laparoscopic or robotic bladder removal is as safe and effective as standard surgery. Learn more about this type of surgery in the Types of Treatment section.

  • Expanding the use of bladder preservation. Researchers are actively looking at ways to help more people with bladder cancer keep their bladder, if possible, using treatments other than bladder removal.

  • 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).

    Studies have shown that certain inherited genetic traits can contribute to cancer development in some people. Therefore, it is very important to talk with your relatives about your broader family history of cancer and discuss with your doctors whether genetic counseling is recommended. This can help you and your family make decisions about treatment and cancer prevention.

  • 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 this cancer, and currently 3 drugs of this type are approved to treat metastatic urothelial cancer, as described in Types of Treatment. Additionally, clinical trials are looking at combining targeted therapy with other treatments. Learn more about the basics of targeted therapy.

  • Immunotherapy. 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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to treat bladder cancer (see Types of Treatment). Other research is underway in this area. Learn more about the basics of immunotherapy.

  • New drug combinations. Researchers are studying new combinations of chemotherapies and other medications to see if they are safe and more effective than other treatments.

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

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:

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