Purpose: Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) immunotherapy has been widely accepted as the optimal treatment for carcinoma in situ and high grade superficial transitional cell carcinoma. However, controversy remains regarding the role of maintenance therapy, and its long-term effect on recurrence and progression.
Materials and methods: All patients in the study had transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder with carcinoma in situ or an increased risk of recurrence. The criteria for increased risk were 2 or more episodes of tumor within the most recent year, or 3 or more tumors within 6 months. At least 1 week following biopsy of carcinoma in situ and resection of any stage Ta or T1 transitional cell tumors 660 patients were started on a 6-week induction course of intravesical and percutaneous Connaught BCG. Three months following initiation of BCG induction therapy 550 consenting patients were stratified by purified protein derivative skin test and the presence of carcinoma in situ, and then randomized by central computer to receive BCG maintenance therapy (maintenance arm) or no BCG maintenance therapy (no maintenance arm). Maintenance therapy consisted of intravesical and percutaneous BCG each week for 3 weeks given 3, 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months from initiation of induction therapy. The 384 eligible patients who were disease-free at randomization constitute the primary intent to treat analytic group because they could be followed for disease recurrence. All patients were followed for adverse effects of treatment, recurrence, disease worsening and survival.
Results: No toxicities above grade 3 were noted in the 243 maintenance arm patients. The policy of withholding maintenance BCG from patients with increased side effects may have diminished the opportunity to observe severe toxicity. Estimated median recurrence-free survival was 35.7 months (95% confidence interval 25.1 to 56.8) in the no maintenance and 76.8 months (64.3 to 93.2) in the maintenance arm (log rank p<0.0001). Estimated median time for worsening-free survival, defined as no evidence of progression including pathological stage T2 disease or greater, or the use of cystectomy, systemic chemotherapy or radiation therapy, was 111.5 months in the no maintenance and not estimable in the maintenance arm (log rank p = 0.04). Overall 5-year survival was 78% in the no maintenance compared to 83% in the maintenance arm.
Conclusions: Compared to standard induction therapy maintenance BCG immunotherapy was beneficial in patients with carcinoma in situ and select patients with Ta, T1 bladder cancer. Median recurrence-free survival time was twice as long in the 3-week maintenance arm compared to the no maintenance arm, and patients had significantly longer worsening-free survival.