Bladder cancer, like all cancers, is concerning because it can mean a change in the way your body functions. If the cancer has invaded the muscle wall, the entire bladder may need to be removed. In the past, this meant living with either an ostomy bag that collects urine outside the body or an internal pouch drained with a tube that is managed by the patient.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) is one of a handful of centers throughout the country offering an innovative procedure in which surgeons build a new bladder, known as a neobladder, by using tissue from the small intestine. This surgery, which allows patients to urinate “naturally,” is called “robot-assisted radical cystectomy with intracorporeal neobladder.”

At the Cancer Center at BIDMC, expert urologic surgeons Peter Chang, MD, and Andrew Wagner, MD, have been performing this procedure for more than five years. They have the area’s largest experience with this procedure, having performed over 100 surgeries.

“Our center is the only institution in New England that offers this innovative procedure for patients with advanced bladder cancer,” says Aria Olumi, MD, Chief of Urologic Surgery at BIDMC. “Being able to do this robotic minimally invasive approach means less blood loss, a faster recovery time and a lower use of narcotics after this complex surgery, compared to the traditional open surgery that is practiced in most centers in New England and around the country.”

Wagner says, “The neobladder is one of the rare surgical innovations that comes along and suddenly improves improve quality of life for many patients with bladder cancer who require removal of their bladder. While ostomy bags are in fact a safe, reliable system, for appropriately selected patients, the neobladder offers superior quality of life.”

Signs of Bladder Cancer

The first sign of bladder cancer is usually blood in the urine. Changes in urination—such as needing to urinate more frequently or a burning sensation—are another reason to check with your doctor. When bladder cancer advances, you may experience an inability to urinate, tiredness, weakness, weight loss and/or pain.

Outcomes

BIDMC’s multidisciplinary team of experts ensures the most successful outcomes for patients.

“Research has shown that in six to 12 months, 80 percent of patients with neobladders manage their urination very successfully during the day, with little or no leakage,” says Wagner. “Night continence is also good. The neobladder has helped many patients maintain a positive self-image and quality of life.”

Most importantly, he says, “Bladder removal for invasive cancer saves lives, and research suggests that minimally invasive, robot-assisted surgery is as effective as traditional surgical methods while reducing complications and recovery time for the patient.”

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