Research and Rescue

Why bladder cancer treatment no longer needs to be life changing

More than 10,000 people across the UK are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year.

Symptoms of bladder cancer include blood in your urine, pain in your abdomen and painful, reoccurring urine infections. Lack of awareness of these symptoms has led to late diagnosis in the majority of cases. Half of all people diagnosed with muscle invasive bladder cancer do not survive more than five years.

 More men than women are diagnosed with bladder cancer. For every one woman who’s diagnosed, there are four men. This is due to historic smoking and working habits related to men.

With the hopes of tackling this poor prognosis for bladder cancer patients, a dedicated research team based in Liverpool is making significant inroads into the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The team is headed by Dr Syed Hussain, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Medical Oncology at the University of Liverpool. His position is partly funded by North West Cancer Research.

His research covers several different areas, including a project looking at organ preservation treatment in muscle invasive bladder cancer. This is where the growth of abnormal tissue, known as a tumour, advances into the muscular layer of the bladder. If left untreated for a period of time, this type of cancer can spread outside of the bladder further limiting survival.
 
There are currently two treatment options available for muscle invasive bladder cancer. The first is to remove the bladder completely. This is a serious operation. Its effects can be life changing for patients, who will need to use a urostomy bag to pass urine, for the rest of their lives.

The second treatment option involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It is this treatment process that Dr Hussain’s team is investigating.

Dr Hussain and his colleagues performed early phase trials, with cancer patients who opted not to have their bladders removed, which led to a national study. This revealed that a combination of radiation treatment with chemotherapy drug Mitomycin C and 5-Fluorouracil reduced the chance of tumour recurrence more significantly than the use of radiotherapy alone.

This is because Mitomycin –C  and 5-Fluorouracil increases the radiation sensitivity of the tumour, making it more effective. The chance of cancer reoccurring is reduced by a third in patients receiving concurrent chemo-radiotherapy compared to radiotherapy alone.

 Another challenge in treating patients with advanced bladder cancer receiving cisplatin based chemotherapy is that patients develop drug resistance and stop responding to treatment.  

Dr Hussain’s team are now looking at second piece of research which hopes to determine why this resistance occurs.  If they can find out why some people stop responding to the treatment, they can help more patients than ever before to survive bladder cancer. This research is funded by a grant from North West Cancer Research.

Dr Hussain, said: “Our research has changed the way bladder cancer is treated. Most patients no longer have to make the agonising decision to have their bladder removed. By combining treatment options we have given patients a fighting chance against bladder cancer, without them having to adjust to a life without a bladder.

“Bladder cancer can be difficult to diagnose, as blood in urine is sometimes ignored by patients. As with all cancers the earlier they are diagnosed the more treatable they are, so if you present with any symptoms please see your GP immediately.
               
“Bladder cancer incidence rates are increasing, yet despite this the amount of research into this type of cancer remains relatively low when compared with other cancers. This is why the research that we are undertaking is so important, as it enables us to give patients a fighting chance against bladder cancer.”

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