YOUR HEALTH: A new way to help treat bladder cancer

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Bladder cancer kills thousands each year and is difficult to treat.

Steve Baker has been battling cancer for almost 25 years, first: skin and kidney cancer and, more recently, cancer of the bladder.

"I might even have others because now I've quit looking," he joked.

Steve was one of 406 patients in a clinical trial, some of whom were given this new drug which fights low-grade invasive cancer of the urinary system.

"And we used it in kind of a unique form," said urological oncologist Dr. Robert Svatek of UT Health San Antonio.

"We put it into the bladder immediately after removing the bladder tumor. The medication is Gemcitabine."

80,000 people were diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2018.

Bladder cancer tumors are often scraped out, but that can cause small cells to implant in other sites in the bladder.

"And they can grow into tumors," he added.   "This medication kills those floating cells and any other cells that may be trying to develop into cancer."

"They came back, I want to say three more times," said Steve.   "And Dr. Svatek took care of those and when this last one came up he called me back and in a month or two months and when he looked for them and they were no longer there."

Gemcitabine stops replication of tumor cells in bladder cancer.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Dr. Svatek says Gemcitabine "sits in the bladder for an hour and then it's removed and the patient goes home."  Gemcitabine has been traditionally used against other cancers, but this procedure is unique because it's applied directly to the bladder instead of the bloodstream.    Carcinogens in the blood are filtered out by the kidneys and then stored in the bladder as a reservoir, exposing the organ to continuous amounts of toxins.   He says that's why the bladder is particularly susceptible to developing cancer from these environmental toxins.  Dr. Svatek points out bladder cancer generally affects people in their sixties and seventies as that is the exposure time needed for the cancer to develop.

The study published last fall shows that Gemcitabine reduced the risk of recurrence by 34% in those with low grade tumors.

Now, the drug is being routinely used and is readily available, inexpensive and safe.

"For younger people, especially in their 40s and 50s, take care of it," warned Steve.

"Don't hide from it, don't run from it. Get it handled."

Doctors say some patients have to undergo four surgeries a year and if physicians can cut down on those recurrences by administering Gemcitabine it will save many people additional surgeries, continued pain, and will shorten recovery time.

If this story  has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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