When you receive a diagnosis of bladder cancer, or urothelial carcinoma, chemotherapy either with or without surgery is considered first-line treatment.
Some people also receive immunotherapy, which uses their own immune system to fight cancer cells.
When bladder cancer metastasizes or advances, known as metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC), these traditional therapies become less effective, making it more difficult to treat.
If you’re diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer, you might consider signing up for a clinical trial.
Clinical trials research new ways to diagnose and prevent diseases. They also study treatments that haven’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Depending on the nature of the study, trial participants receive experimental drugs or treatments so that researchers can test their effectiveness.
Eligibility requirements vary from trial to trial. A clinical trial might specifically seek out participants of a certain gender, age group, or those with particular symptoms.
Some trials might only test drugs on individuals who are newly diagnosed. Others may only test new drugs on those who haven’t had success with traditional therapies.
For example, one clinical trial might seek women who are newly diagnosed with stage 1 or stage 2 bladder cancer.
Another trial may look for men ages 65 and older with advanced bladder cancer who haven’t had success on other treatments.
When researching clinical trials, you’ll find that each trial has detailed information about the ideal candidate and other eligibility criteria.
Clinical trials sometimes use new or experimental drugs and treatments. So your participation comes with the risk of experiencing unknown side effects or complications.
Keep in mind, before testing a medication or therapy on humans, researchers spend years studying and testing these treatments in laboratories and on non-human subjects.
If a treatment is proven unsafe in these initial stages, it’s not moved forward for testing on humans.
Before starting a clinical trial, you’ll receive information about potential risks that have been discovered in the initial research phases so you can make an informed decision about your participation.
You might have doubts about signing up because there’s a possibility you’ll receive a placebo treatment during a clinical trial. However, in many cases, participants who receive a placebo will also receive the standard treatment to avoid worsening their condition.
You may also be eligible to receive the experimental treatment later if it proves successful in the trial.
Your participation in a clinical trial is voluntary, so you’re free to drop out at any time. You might consider leaving a trial if you feel that the treatment isn’t working or if you start experiencing severe adverse side effects.
Some clinical trials for advanced bladder cancer are ongoing, so you can sign up anytime. Others have specific start dates.
Once enrolled, you might receive an experimental drug over a period of several months or years. Researchers will track your progress along the way to document whether your condition improves, worsens, or remains the same.
Most health insurance companies will cover the usual costs of any standard care you receive during a clinical trial, which includes things like routine lab work or X-rays.
Most health insurance policies don’t cover research costs. This includes things like any lab work or X-rays needed for clinical trial purposes only. The clinical trial sponsor often covers these expenses.
In some cases, you may be responsible for costs like traveling to a different city and staying in a hospital or medical facility as a part of the trial. Some clinical trials offer reimbursement for these expenses.
There are limited treatment options for advanced or metastatic bladder cancer, so a clinical trial can be a great option to try if traditional therapies have failed.
Joining a clinical trial offers exposure to a new treatment on the horizon that may help shrink tumors, improve your quality of life, and even extend your life.
Signing up for a trial goes beyond the opportunity to help researchers and doctors with new treatments. Your participation could potentially save other lives, too.
To learn more about clinical trials, talk to your urologist or oncologist. They may have information about upcoming trials in your area or in another city or state.
Additionally, you can search for clinical trials using various online databases. These include:
- Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation
- National Institute of Health Clinical Trials
National Cancer Institute Clinical Trials World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform
You’ll find information about upcoming trials for advanced bladder cancer including:
- eligibility criteria
- start and end dates
In recent years, various clinical trials have led to the development of new therapies for treating advanced bladder cancer.
Since 2014, five immunotherapy drugs known as immune checkpoint inhibitors have gone through clinical trials and received FDA approval for treating bladder cancer. These include:
- atezolizumab (Tencentriq)
- avelumab (Bavencio)
- durvalumab (Imfinzi)
- nivolumab (Opdivo)
- pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
In 2019, the FDA approved a different type of targeted therapy called erdafitinib (Balversa) to help treat a specific type of advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma that doesn’t respond to chemotherapy.
That same year, another bladder cancer drug called enfortumab vedotin-ejfv (Padcev) also received FDA approval.
These clinical trials have ended, but researchers are continually looking for new ways to prevent and treat bladder cancer and evaluating the safety and efficacy of potential new drugs.
Advanced bladder cancer can be difficult to treat, and sometimes, traditional cancer therapies are ineffective.
When that happens, joining a clinical trial can give you access to new drugs that are being tested to help slow the progression of the cancer and prolong your life.
Helping researchers find new ways to treat bladder cancer can benefit others who are living with advanced bladder cancer, as well.