What is BCG?


Principally, Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is a live, weakened strain of a bovine tuberculosis bacillus called Mycobacterium bovis that works as a vaccine against tuberculosis. However, in the cancer treatment setting, BCG is also used as an immunotherapeutic treatment against some forms of bladder cancer.

BCG as immunotherapy against bladder cancer

While it's not known precisely how BCG works against bladder cancer, what seems clear from the data is that it works quite well, chiefly as an agent to prevent relapse or recurrence of the cancer in the bladder, and generally as adjuvant therapy following a procedure known as transurethral resection surgery, which removes the tumor(s) from the bladder.

There are strict procedures to receiving BCG, and it is administered by a health care professional. A standard schedule of treatment might be receiving a BCG injection every week for six weeks, followed by maintenance therapy which may include receiving another injection every three to six months for two years.

BCG side effects

When administered, BCG can cause the following side effects:

  • -- Enlarged lymph nodes
  • -- Redness at the injection site
  • -- Fatigue or fevers
  • -- Frequent/painful urination
  • -- Stomach upset
  • -- Incontinence
  • -- Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting

More serious side effects that may require immediate intervention include a severe rash, pneumonitis (lung tissue inflammation), leukopenia, blood in the urine, and problems breathing or swallowing. Other side effects should nonetheless be reported to one's health care professional(s).


MedlinePlus: BCG vaccine
WebMD: BCG for bladder cancer

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