Bladder Cancer: Rethinking Present and Future

April 2021

When we talk about the future of bladder cancer, we must first start with treatment. The conventional treatments for bladder cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. These treatments have been in use for decades, but they are also plagued by side effects and limitations that have not only failed to improve over time but actually worsened in recent years. 

As a result of this stagnation in conventional care, some people may be turning towards alternative methods to either complement their treatment or save them from it altogether. One such method is being explored by researchers at the University of Washington; they believe that roundworms could be trained to recognize cancerous cells and kill them before they spread around the body. 

Primary treatment for bladder cancer is surgery to remove the tumor. However, many times the cancer has already spread to surrounding tissues and organs by the time it is discovered. In these cases the disease has become castration-resistant and chemotherapy is added to try and stop further spread of the disease as well as prevent recurrence of tumors that have already been removed. Unfortunately, current chemotherapy treatments have very high toxicity and can cause damage to healthy cells while not doing much damage to cancerous ones. 

WHO Classification of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer has been classified in many ways. In modern times, classification is based upon two factors: the type of cell from which the malignancy arose and how fast it grows (the stage).

The potential problem with current treatments is also present with alternative treatments currently being explored by researchers like those at New York's Mt. Sinai Hospital. They have been looking at the fact that chemotherapy and radiation therapy for bladder cancer don't target one specific type of cell. Instead, they kill most cells in the body and as a result, healthy cells are also being killed off. 

Potential new treatments

This understanding has led to potential new treatments utilizing drugs that would only kill cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones intact. One such drug is already being used to treat leukemia patients who have high levels of white blood cells in their systems. Researchers are now trying to repurpose this drug for bladder cancer patients with advanced cases of disease. 

A similar situation is playing out with radiation therapy. In addition to destroying healthy cells, radiation also gives patients a very high chance of developing secondary cancers later in life. Researchers at the University of Washington believe that roundworms, when controlled by laser light, could be trained to find and react specifically to cancerous cells. The approach would allow doctors to surgically remove tumors and immediately treat them with a much less invasive laser treatment than traditional radiation therapy. 

While the approach of using light-controlled worms is still in early stages of development, researchers have shown some promising results. They have been able to train them to grow towards a target cell and then release an enzyme that kills the cancerous cell without affecting healthy cells around it.

Bladder cancer is a widespread disease in humans and among other animals. The actual cause of bladder cancer is still unknown, but it progresses due to several factors including lifestyle, diet, genetics and many other things. There are 5 different types of bladder cancers which include:

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