A transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) is a noninvasive outpatient surgery. It may be used to help diagnose and treat early-stage bladder cancers and also remove suspected tumors.

Treatment plans for bladder cancers typically involve some type of surgery.

TURBT is considered the most common treatment method for early-stage bladder cancers.

A doctor may order a TURBT to:

  • help diagnose bladder cancer
  • remove suspected tumors
  • send samples to a pathologist for cancer staging
  • see whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to the bladder wall

TURBT is a noninvasive outpatient procedure. This means that no incisions are required, and you won’t need to stay in the hospital overnight unless complications arise.

Most people with non-muscle invasive bladder cancers (NMIBC) have at least one TURBT. However, a second surgery may be needed to remove any affected tissues along the bladder wall to prevent further cancer spread.

In the weeks leading up to a TURBT, you will likely have a consultation with one or more healthcare professionals.

At the consult, they might:

It’s important to tell your doctor about any medications and supplements you may be taking. They may ask you to stop taking certain medications 1–2 weeks prior to your scheduled surgery, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and blood thinners.

You’ll also be instructed not to eat or drink anything between 12–24 hours before your surgery.

Lastly, since an anesthetic will be administered, you’ll need to arrange for someone to drive you to and from the surgery.

On the date of your surgery, a nurse will check your vitals and make sure you’ve fasted and followed other preparation instructions.

A doctor or anesthesiologist will then administer the anesthesia. This is done before the procedure so you won’t feel pain during the surgery.

The TURBT procedure itself may take between 15–90 minutes.

TURBT procedure

The TURBT procedure often involves four steps:

  1. A doctor will insert a resectoscope through the urethra and into the bladder. This tool has a small wired loop on the end to remove any tumors or abnormal tissues.
  2. The surgeon may perform fulguration. This process involves burning tissues surrounding the tumor with high-energy laser beams. It can help ensure all cancer cells are treated.
  3. The surgeon will seal any blood vessels that may have broken during the procedure. This could help reduce the risk of internal bleeding.
  4. In the case of a large tumor or excessive bleeding, the surgeon may place a catheter in your bladder. This is typically removed after 1–2 days.
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After your surgery, the removed bladder tumor will be sent to a lab where a pathologist can run tests to determine the cancer stage.

Most people go home the same day of their TURBT procedure.

You may be able to resume your typical activities, such as work, within 1–2 weeks.

That said, you may be asked to refrain from strenuous activities that place unnecessary strain on your bladder for about 3 weeks, including:

  • exercising
  • lifting heavy objects
  • carrying groceries
  • holding children or pets

It’s common to experience mild pain, burning, or bleeding when you urinate for up to a month following surgery. But, if your symptoms worsen or last longer, speak with a doctor.

TURBT is generally considered safe, with the benefits of the procedure outweighing any possible risks.

The surgery may also help your doctor determine any next steps, such as imaging scans to look for cancer progression or further treatment.

Sometimes, a second TURBT is ordered within 2–6 weeks to:

  • assess “high grade” tumors that were removed
  • make sure all cancer cells were removed
  • remove cancer that may have spread

Always discuss possible risks with a doctor or your treatment team ahead of time so that you’re prepared should any complications arise from TURBT.

Such risks may include:

It’s estimated that 4–6% of TURBTs may result in complications.

Repeated TURBTs may also increase your risk of long-term bladder-related side effects, such as incontinence and frequent urination.

Speak with a doctor if you experience the following symptoms after a TURBT:

How long does it take for your bladder to heal after TURBT?

You may return to daily activities a few days after your surgery if your doctor gives you the go-ahead. However, the bladder itself may take approximately 6 weeks to fully heal.

The exact timeline varies for each person, with some recovery periods lasting longer.

A treatment plan typically involves avoiding strenuous activities for at least 3 weeks.

Is TURBT the same as a bladder biopsy?

A bladder biopsy involves taking a sample of a suspected tumor with a cystoscope and sending it off to a lab for further analysis.

TURBT is more involved than a bladder biopsy alone. It involves a resectoscope, which has a wired loop to remove tumors. They then send tissue samples to a pathologist.

Is TURBT surgery serious?

TURBT is considered noninvasive and is performed on an outpatient basis. The more serious concern is the underlying tumor that the procedure is designed to address.

TURBT is a common technique used for early-stage bladder cancers that have not spread to the muscle wall. It involves removing tumors and may also help a doctor determine the appropriate next steps in your treatment plan.

While TURBTs are generally safe for most people, short-term urinary side effects are common. It’s also important to discuss more serious risks with a doctor before having this procedure.