Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. It may be used:

  • Before surgery —to shrink the tumor
  • After surgery—to kill any cancer cells that are left behind
  • With radiation therapy —if surgery can't be done
  • To help ease symptoms caused by the tumor

Chemotherapy Drugs and Delivery

There are many kinds of chemotherapy drugs. The drugs and how they are used will depend on the type of cancer. Bladder cancer may be treated with:

  • Cisplatin
  • Fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • Mitomycin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Gemcitabine
  • Methotrexate
  • Vinblastine
  • Carboplatin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Docetaxel

Chemotherapy is most often given through an IV. It's done in cycles over a set period.

A liquid agent may also be placed right into the bladder. The agent will alert the immune system to attack the cancer.

Side Effects and Management

Chemotherapy causes a range of health problems. The most common are:

  • Blood in the urine
  • An irritated bladder, which may cause an increase in:
    • Frequency
    • Urgency
    • Pain or burning when passing urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired because of anemia

There are many ways to manage these problems. Medicines and lifestyle changes are the most common. In some cases, the cycles may be changed to lower the chances of serious problems. Talk to your healthcare team as soon as these appear so they can be better controlled.


Bladder cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated June 26, 2018. Accessed August 2, 2018.

Bladder cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated October 2017. Accessed August 2, 2018.

Chemotherapy for bladder cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Updated May 23, 2018. Accessed August 2, 2018.

Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated May 3, 2018. Accessed August 2, 2018.

Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 8/2/2018