What to Know about BCG for Bladder Cancer

By: Urology Care Foundation | Posted on: 22 May 2019

What to Know about BCG for Bladder Caner

Did you know May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month?  It's a time to raise extra awareness and promote facts about this disease. Education and raising awareness about bladder cancer is an important part of moving closer to a cure.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with bladder cancer it can be frightening. However, your doctor and medical team are there to help you.

Talk with your healthcare team about all the available forms of treatment. They will tell you about possible risks and the side effects of treatment on your quality of life.

Your options for treatment will depend on how much your cancer has grown. Your urologist will stage and grade your cancer and assess the best way to manage your care considering your risk. Treatment also depends on your general health and age. Visit our condition article to learn more about treatment options for bladder cancer. 

What to expect from Intravesical Therapy

Intravesical ("within the bladder") therapy, is when a treatment drug is put directly into your bladder. The drug is put into the bladder with the help of a catheter (a thin tube that is placed through the urethra). You will hold the drug in your bladder for one to two hours and then pass it out. Intravesical chemotherapy is usually given immediately after surgery.

Intravesical Immunotherapy Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a treatment that boosts the ability of your immune system to fight the cancer. Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is the immunotherapy drug that is used for bladder cancer. BCG also has been used as a tuberculosis vaccine.

Your BCG therapy will probably last about six weeks for the first course. It is usually done in your doctor's office, not in the hospital or operating room. You may get BCG treatment more than once.

The BCG drug is inserted into the bladder through a catheter. The therapy triggers the immune system to attack bladder cancer cells. It is one of the most effective treatments for bladder cancer, especially carcinoma in situ (CIS). It is not recommended if you have a weak immune system or certain symptoms. Side effects can include:

  • Urinating often
  • Pain when urinating
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Joint pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Bacteria infecting whole body (less common)

Important Message About the BCG Shortage

Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) is a standard treatment option for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. Merck & Co., the only maker and supplier of BCG to the United States, has informed the Urology Care Foundation that they are now experiencing a global shortage of BCG due the growing use and need for this product around the world.

While Merck has raised their production of BCG, they expect this shortage to carry through 2019.

The Foundation is very concerned about this medication shortage, and we understand this situation can be stressful for physicians and patients. To help minimize disruptions to patient care, the Urology Care Foundation has been working closely with the American Urological Association (AUA), American Association of Clinical Urologists, Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network and the Society of Urologic Oncology to develop strategies to help providers treat patients with bladder cancer while this supply constraint continues.

In addition, efforts to engage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in identifying and approving other sources of BCG are ongoing. The Urology Care Foundation remains in contact with the AUA and Merck, and will share more news as it becomes available.

For further information about BCG, please review Merck's frequently asked questions or feel free to reach out to their National Service Center at 1-800-444-2080.

The Foundation has compiled a list of frequently asked questions regarding the BCG shortage. [pdf]

BCAN Special Update - BCG Shortage: Understanding your Treatment Options Webinar

View the recording of this program featuring Dr. Seth Lerner, Dr. Robert Svatak, and patient advocate Rick Bangs.

Created February 19, 2019
Last updated March 18, 2019

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