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UNC Researchers Take New Approach To Treat Bladder Cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Health officials say bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and in the top 10 for women. Unfortunately, the best hope for curing it forces many patients to live with something called an ostomy bag, but medical advances now make it possible to make a new bladder.

Robert Hughes loves the movies. The manager of the Garner Town Square Theater hardly ever took a sick day until two summers ago when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

"It stuns you. No doubt, it really sets you back," he said.

Removing the bladder is the most common treatment. In many cases after the surgery, the kidneys drain into an area of the intestine, which is connected to a bag outside the body.

"It works well. However, obviously it's not a popular treatment," said Dr. Raj Pruthi of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

An option that is gaining in popularity is the neo-bladder. In this procedure, surgeons use a portion of the intestine to create a new bladder.

"They're not left with any appliances bags or so forth and can function normally," Pruthi said.

In most cases, surgery lasts eight to nine hours. Pruthi and his team have modified the procedure to shorten the surgery and recovery time. They nicknamed it the UNC bladder.

"It's a three- to four-hour operation. Patients don't go to the intensive care unit and typically go home on day 4," he said.

Hughes had the procedure done and said his recovery went well.

"The next day, I was up walking about a half mile in the hall," he said.

While Hughes knows his cancer could return, he said he is not living in fear.

"Just live life like it's not going to and if it does, it does. I'll deal with it just like I did last go round," he said.

After surgery, health experts say most patients lead normal active lives. As for the early signs of bladder cancer, unfortunately there are not many. One of the signs is blood in the urine, but health experts say that could mean many things so it needs to be checked by your doctor.

Researchers also claim that more than half of all people with bladder cancer are smokers.


Ken Bodine, Photographer
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