Bladder Cancer in Men, Dark Black Spots, & BCG Treatment

Updated on January 13, 2018
john000 profile image

John was a Navy hospital corpsman. He worked the general sick bay, managed a carrier O.R., and treated heat rash, eczema, and dyshidrosis.


The dove is a symbol of peace and gentleness. In my opinion, after some experience, when we deal with cancer, we need to be gentle with the patient, the doctors, and ourselves. We all do the very best we can at any moment in time, especially when it is a significant other. May peace be with our health care professionals, patients, and bladder cancer survivors.

BCG Bladder Cancer Treatment

The purpose of this article is not to criticize the medical community. The purpose is to perhaps save others the frustration I have experienced in trying to help my father who suffered from superficial bladder cancer, and subsequently BCG infection. There will be three parts to this discussion: the basics of BCG treatment, symptoms of BCG infection, and my father's symptoms.

BCG stands for Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine (attenuated mycobacterium bovis). The bacillus used for this vaccine is a weakened (attenuated) form. It is live, but more easily killed by your body's immune system. BCG is used to vaccinate against tuberculosis or it can be delivered via catheter directly into the bladder (a treatment for bladder carcinoma). The solutions for the vaccine and immunotherapy for the bladder are different.

BCG Treatment for Bladder Cancer-

The idea behind treating bladder cancer with BCG is to get the body's immune system to react to what it sees as an invasion by something live and foreign. During the reaction, white blood cells attack the BCG causing an inflammation of the bladder. While fighting the BCG, the body also attacks the cancer tumor cells.

It is estimated that around 95% of patients treated with BCG have no symptoms of infection from the BCG. Furthermore, less than 1% of patients incur life-threatening or fatal reactions to BCG.

Common reactions to BCG are: frequent urination, bloody urination, painful urination, and urgency of urination. Rare side effects are: blood in urine, chills, itching , joint pain, fatigue, and/or nausea. An infection similar to tuberculosis can occur in very rare instances. Anti-tuberculosis drugs are required for treatment.

How it Started

In 2001, my father (age 79) was diagnosed with in situ bladder cancer. It appeared during cystoscopy as a red spot in the bladder. Initially, it was discovered by a standard urine test that showed the presence of red blood cells. In situ bladder cancer is a very malignant aggressive type of superficial cancer detected early and not beyond the lining of the bladder.

Soon my father began BCG treatment in Tucson, Arizona. His course of treatment was once a week doses of BCG for 6 weeks. Then he would have 6 weeks with no treatment. I believe he had cystoscopy to determine if bladder cancer was still present. Then he would have another 6 weeks of once a week treatment with BCG if the cancer was present. This is the pattern that repeated itself many times over a 4 year period when cancer was detected. After two courses of immunotherapy, my dad still had a very small red area, though smaller yet, and the doctor decided to use BCG and interferon. The interferon also helps the immune system fight the cancer. After this course of treatment my father had a scraping of the bladder and the lab tests showed no cancer. My dad then had a period without treatment, but he had routine urine analysis.

Two White-winged Doves perching on a cactus in Tucson, Arizona.
Two White-winged Doves perching on a cactus in Tucson, Arizona. | Source
Two White-winged Doves perching on a cactus in Tucson, Arizona.
Two White-winged Doves perching on a cactus in Tucson, Arizona. | Source

A Decent Interval

It was a decent interval before my father showed red blood cells in his urine again. On inspection, the "red spot" had reappeared. I cannot remember if BCG at this point was accompanied by interferon or not. My involvement in his treatment was simply questioning him about what was being done, and like many fathers, he didn't explain everything to me, and in turn, I felt confident in his medical treatment. He would stop at my house to lie down after installation of BCG because my house was closer to the doctor's office. He would roll from side to side periodically to make sure the BCG spread around. After voiding, we would put bleach in the toilet to kill the BCG before flushing.

This scenario went on a number of times ( I cannot tell you exactly how many treatments he had, but it was quite a few). He would "look good" for awhile, and then the cancer would be picked up again either with cystoscopy, urine analysis, or both. His only symptom after about 2 years (in retrospect) was loss of weight. He attributed it to aging and said he wasn't eating as much because he wasn't doing as much. He dismissed it strongly. He actually thought of it as a good thing.

BCG Bladder Cancer Treatment

In 2002, I moved to the central valley of California. My dad and his wife moved to Oregon. I went to see him several times over the next 3 years and we talked on the phone. Dad hired an aide to help with cooking and house work. He explained that he didn't have the energy he used to have. This I believe was a second symptom of infection (malaise). Weight loss continued. Another symptom occurred perhaps in 2003-2004. This was that he had a low red blood count. Doctors attributed this to CIS and also considered the fact that he might have some kind of infection. The docs had him check his house for a natural gas leak twice. His urine analyzes were coming up positive for red blood cells rather consistently and he was getting more BCG. As I have said, I cannot remember the total number of courses he received but when his urologist saw a suspicious spot, he would treat.

One day I got a call from my sister. She said that dad had had a cystoscopy and that he had "black spots" on his bladder. At this point I thought that surely some other patient had exhibited these symptoms and I started an extensive Internet search for information. In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, my father's urologist decided that the "black spots" might be tumors so he gave my dad a double dose of BCG. That is, twice as much BCG was used each week during the course.

It took me two weeks of searching, but I finally came across an article written by a doctor who was alerting other doctors to something he had noticed in several of his BCG infected patients. He had discovered "black spots". He also discovered that treating their bladder infections required antibiotics used against tuberculosis. The usual antibiotics used to cure bladder infection were not working. He declared that there was a strain of BCG that was DRUG RESISTANT. I have tried to find the article and cannot. The article was written by a urologist in the Midwest and also had a photo of the spots. It was written in 1992. I immediately copied the article and faxed it to my dad's urologist and internist. I took the first flight out to Oregon.

In the ensuing weeks, my dad had 2 bladder infections that required him to be hospitalized. Each time the doctors treated with a number of antibiotics that did not work. When one or a combo seemed to cure him, he would be out of the hospital one or two weeks and then back in with another bladder infection. My father was having a couple more symptoms which he did not talk about. He was having "head sweats" at night; his pillow at night got sopping wet. I learned this later while in Oregon, and it had been going on for quite some time. He was also running a low grade fever of 99-100 degrees frequently and mysteriously.

I accompanied my dad to his last local urologist appointment. The doctor said that my dad's bladder was covered with granuloma. From Wikipedia, granuloma is a medical term for a roughly spherical mass of immune cells that forms when the immune system attempts to wall off substances that it perceives as foreign but is unable to eliminate. Such substances can include infectious organisms and bacteria. The doctor was saying that his bladder was covered with it and that he could not see the normal lining of the bladder. While looking at dad's bladder he had scraped from the top to the bottom vertically, and from left to right horizontally in a cross-like fashion. None of the lab tests revealed any cancer in the material scraped. The tests did not reveal any infectious organism (it turns out that BCG is hard to culture, and frequently does not show up on various lab tests). The last recommendation the urologist had was that dad could have his bladder removed. That was not received well by my father who honestly did not think he would survive the surgery (he was 83 now). By now his weight was down from nearly 200 pounds to 130 pounds.

Off to the OHSU Hospital

During this appointment I cited the article I had faxed the doctor. He said that it was possible that he had BCG infection. But when I asked to have dad put on isoniazid and rifampin (recommended in the article), the doctor was very resistant claiming the antibiotics for tuberculosis were "very powerful"? This is when I decided we had to do something else. The article recommended that people with these symptoms see an infectious disease specialist. I made an appointment at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. Both the internist and urologist faxed my dad's records to the hospital.

The doctor at OHSU just looked at the labs that were sent and diagnosed my dad as having a drug resistant BCG infection. He sent me home with isoniazid and rifampin to administer dad. Other drugs for treatment are pyrazinamide, ethambutol, and streptomycin .He also took blood cultures and urine for culture. He told me it was important that the blood cultures be incubated for a whole 6 weeks - NO shorter period of time. Apparently there are times when if absolutely no growth is seen, samples will be discarded before the 6 week mark. I was warned that the cultures might not show anything even after this period of time. The doctor indicated that hospitalization was not a good idea since my dad's immune system was compromised. Dad might well die from a different infection caught in the hospital.

By this time (July 2005) my dad had lost the will to live. Dad had no appetite (he actually got the dry heaves when he smelled some hot food I took into the hotel we stayed at in Portland). We treated him with the antibiotics and continued to encourage him to take high protein drink which he could tolerate. He said that food had not tasted good to him for a LONG TIME. Loss of appetite is another symptom of BCG infection. He couldn't walk without help, and was having light-headed spells. About two weeks after our appointment at Oregon Health and Science University, my father died (2005). The primary cause of death was sepsis (a systemic inflammatory response syndrome SIRS with the presence of a known or suspected infection.). A contributing factor was Drug Resistant Mycobacterium Bovis cystitis. An additional significant condition was bladder cancer.

What's the Message?

Here is the salient point to take from this story. If your urologist is saying things like, "I have never seen anything like this," or, "The black spots must be tumors, we'll give him a double dose of BCG," or, "His urine analyzes are consistently showing red blood cells, it has to be cancer," it's time to seek other help. I fell into the trap of thinking our doctors knew all there was to know about BCG. Who among us knows everything about anything?

Let it be clear that I relate this story in the hopes that if you see similar symptoms over a good period of time (remember, side effects can last 2 weeks), maybe you can get help from an infectious disease specialist sooner than I did. These might not be bladder cancer symptoms. If I were diagnosed with bladder cancer tomorrow, and my doctor recommended BCG treatment, I would take it as soon as possible. Recall, only 5% of patients show signs of infection, and only 1% have fatal or life-threatening reactions. BCG is the most common and effective treatment to date for superficial bladder cancer. There are other treatments.

Always Consult a Physician On the Matter of Cancer! But, in the Interest of Information, This Video is Offered

© 2010 John R Wilsdon


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My father in law has bladder cancer and unfortunately it has spread. Like Dawn's dad he's been battling this for about 3 years now. He has had his bladder scrapped out so many times along with radiation and chemo.

      So sorry to read this about your dad. I'm sure that your hub will help others.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      I am sorry to hear this sad story of your father's health problems and interactions with the health care system. I think we would all do good to remember that doctors are "practicing" an art that will never be perfected.

      Three score and ten are the years of a man. That is just the way it is, as unpleasant a thought and as painful as it might be for us in this vale of tears.

      The most important thing for all of us is to ready for eternity. Because it is coming.

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 6 years ago from Superior, Arizona


      I really do understand your feelings. Make sure you have consulted a university medical research center near you. I hope your dad gets some relief soon.

    • profile image

      lynne 6 years ago

      your conclusion with your dad coincides with mine. he endures horrible pain. doctors did

      the best to explain the new procedure to my dad which is new and contradictions and indications are not yet a dictation of every type of bcg procedure. my concern is how long can a man endure this? thank god he is so strong. i need a relief prognosis for him....

    • rwelton profile image

      rwelton 7 years ago from Sacramento CA

      Thank you for your article. A lot of men live in denial regarding any health issues. I appreciate your hub.


    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 7 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      The only center he went to was Oregon Health and Science University. In retrospect I should have been more forceful about going to a Center for Excellence early on. He did have 3 different urologists, all of whom seemed unaffected by what they saw.

      I hope many people read your comment. CIS should be considered, as you say, aggressive and unpredictable. I was under the impression that it was a cancer similar to prostate cancer; CIS could be handled successfully 20% of the time, and for the 80% recurrance, therapy could simply continue to beat it back. This attitude didn't leave room for other possibilities. Had I been more concerned from the get-go, of course, things might have been different. But, as I have said before, we do the best we can at the moment. Increased concern was a moment late.

      Thank you for leaving your wise comments. Reader, if you are connected, even tangentially in ANYWAY with bladder cancer, read h.a. borcich's comment above. Heed it.

    • h.a.borcich profile image

      h.a.borcich 7 years ago

      I feel for you and your Dad. The pain of a bladder cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments can be devastating. As a advanced invasive bladder cancer warrior I know it all too well.

      May I suggest The American Bladder Cancer Society website. They have wonderful resourses for patients and family fighting this cancer. There are Drs who participate and some very knowledgeable survivors who can find information and make connections to help. Pat is a great researcher who can find anything! Dr Lamm is considered the foremost authority on noninvasive bladder cancers and he is responsive on the site.

      Did your Dad ever seek out a 2nd opinion from a Center of Excellence? Most pathology on bc (bladder cancer) is under/over staged. Knowing what the pathology is determines the treatment path and is paramount for successful treatment. Also CIS is considered aggressive and unpredictable - not to intimidate you - and really needs to be handled by very experienced urologists.

      Thank you for getting the word out and be well. Holly

    • D.Virtual.Doctor profile image

      Funom Theophilus Makama 7 years ago from Europe

      Tnanks for relating the story Johnooo, I truly appreciate it and the awareness is well noted...

    • Roseann Cole profile image

      Roseann Cole 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Thank you for sharing your story about your dad. Very sad story and hopefully others will learn from your experience.

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 7 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      We all do the best that we can at the time. So sorry about your dad, and yes, the treatments are rough to deal with. Thank you for sharing, DawnM.

    • dawnM profile image

      Dawn Michael 7 years ago from THOUSAND OAKS

      HI John, I feel your pain, my dad lost the fight last year. He was diagnosed with a different bladder cancer than your dad but, if I had known now what I did back then I think that he could still be alive.

      My dad had a colon cancer growing in his bladder. My dad had half of his bladder removed with the tumor and that was the start of the spread. To his lungs, liver, colon, back to bladder. The worst part of this process was a four year battle for him with endless surgeries, chemo and much more. I believe that if the tumor was left in his bladder and we could have supported his immune system to help his own body eradicate the tumor he would have not be gone through the hell he did. Once the body is opened and body parts are removed the cancer just spreads. Thank you John for sharing your story and I do hope that it reaches others in time!

    • anitariley65 profile image

      anitariley65 7 years ago from Little Town Ohio

      Great information. Keep up the good work.

    Show All Categories