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Transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT)

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on June 20, 2022.

A transurethral resection of bladder tumor (TURBT) is a surgical procedure used to diagnose, treat and stage early-stage bladder cancer, especially early-stage (non-muscle invasive) bladder cancer. It may also be used as a diagnostic tool for suspected bladder cancer.

What is a TURBT procedure?

Transurethral is the medical term for a very small device that’s inserted into the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder and out of the body).

To diagnose and stage the disease, the doctor removes tissue from inside the bladder during a TURBT procedure and has it examined under a microscope for cancer cells.

When used to treat non-muscle invasive bladder cancer, the TURBT procedure is performed to remove as many cancer cells as possible. The patient may require repeated TURBT procedures to remove other cancer cells that have been detected or to treat a cancer recurrence. These successive procedures may be more extensive than the first, and repeated TURBT procedures may scar the bladder, causing incontinence (urine leaks) or frequent urination.

To treat muscle-invasive bladder cancer, patients may require additional treatment, which may include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

How is a TURBT performed?

Before the TURBT, the care team will explain the procedure and answer any questions. To prepare for the procedure, patients receive general anesthesia (medicine that puts them to sleep) or spinal anesthesia (medicine that numbs the affected area so they don’t feel pain).

Once the anesthesia takes effect, the doctor inserts a long, thin tube—called a resectoscope—through the urethra and into the bladder. At the end of the resectoscope is a camera and wire loop. Using the camera to guide the instrument, the doctor uses the loop to scrape off amd remove the cancer cells from the bladder.

Doctors may also use a high-energy laser to kill remaining cancer cells or burn them off with a process called fulguration.

Because the procedure is performed in the urethra, it doesn’t require incisions or stitches. The procedure typically takes about 15 to 90 minutes.

What’s expected after a TURBT?

Patients should receive clear aftercare guidelines from their care team. Most patients need to stay overnight, while others may be able to go home the same day.

It’s important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated may help reduce burning sensations when urinating. Patients may also need to avoid strenuous activity (such as lifting heavy items, having sex or exercising) for about three weeks or until the doctor says it’s safe. Patients should also ask when they may safely drive again.

If patients feel unwell at any point after the TURBT procedure, they should seek medical advice.

What complications may come with a TURBT?

While TURBTs are generally considered low-risk procedures, patients may still experience some mild, short-term complications. These generally include:

  • Bladder spasms and pain (one of the most common side effects)
  • Infection
  • Need to urinate frequently
  • Bruising and swelling
  • Blood in the urine for up to two weeks after surgery (Patients should seek medical advice if bleeding lasts longer.)
  • Perforation, or a hole, in the bladder wall (though this is very rare)

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