A New Era in Bladder Cancer Treatment: Targeted Therapy Offers Hope - Daniel Chong, MD, Virginia Cancer Specialists

Virginia Cancer Specialists Practice Blog

May 21, 2024
Virginia Cancer Specialists » VCS Practice News » Blog Post » A New Era in Bladder Cancer Treatment: Targeted Therapy Offers Hope – Daniel Chong, MD, Virginia Cancer Specialists

Bladder Cancer treatments and targeted therapy.


Bladder cancer, though not as widely discussed as some other cancers, is a significant health concern worldwide. With approximately 82,000 new cases each year, and sadly, 16,700 annual deaths attributed to it, it demands attention and innovative solutions.

Fortunately, advancements in medical science have led to a greater understanding of bladder cancer and improved treatment options. Early detection remains paramount, with symptoms like painless hematuria (bloody urine) and voiding difficulties serving as important red flags. Consulting a skilled urologist at the onset of symptoms can significantly impact outcomes.

For many years, platinum-based chemotherapy has been a cornerstone in the palliative treatment of advanced bladder cancer. While offering some relief, its efficacy has been limited, with modest response rates and relatively short median overall survival.

Enter immunotherapy, a promising frontier in cancer treatment. By leveraging the body’s own immune system to target and combat cancer cells, immunotherapy has shown remarkable potential in various cancer types. However, its efficacy in metastatic bladder cancer, when combined with platinum-based chemotherapy, has been disappointing, with marginal improvements in overall survival.

Yet, a beacon of hope shines through recent research published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine by Powles et al. Their study introduces a novel combination therapy: Enfortumab vedotin (EV) plus pembrolizumab. EV, an antibody-drug conjugate, targets a specific receptor called nectin-4, present on bladder cancer cells, delivering a payload drug directly to the tumor site.

In this groundbreaking phase III international study, patients treated with EV plus pembrolizumab experienced a doubling in their length of life compared to those receiving standard chemotherapy. Not only did they survive longer, but they also enjoyed a better toxicity profile, with fewer adverse effects impacting their quality of life.

While this regimen isn’t without its challenges, including peripheral neuropathy, hyperglycemia, and maculopapular rash, its efficacy and tolerability mark a significant paradigm shift in bladder cancer treatment. Moving away from traditional cytotoxic chemotherapy towards targeted therapies represents a critical stride in translational research and personalized medicine.

As a medical oncologist at Virginia Cancer Specialists, I’m excited about the implications of this study. It not only offers hope to patients battling metastatic bladder cancer but also underscores the importance of precision therapy in improving outcomes and enhancing quality of life. With each breakthrough, we edge closer to a future where bladder cancer is not just treatable but conquerable.

Daniel Chong, MD Medical Oncologist Virginia Cancer Specialists