Clinical evidence for the first-line treatment of advanced urothelial carcinoma: Current paradigms and emerging treatment options

Cancer Treat Rev. 2020 Sep;89:102072. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2020.102072. Epub 2020 Jul 22.


Background: Patients with advanced urothelial carcinoma (UC) have poor outcomes, with 5-year survival rates of <5% for those with metastatic, stage IV disease. We have reviewed current treatment paradigms and emerging treatment options for these patients.

Methods: The websites of seven national or international organizations were searched for metastatic UC treatment guidelines. Systematic literature reviews were conducted to identify evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of chemotherapy for patients with previously untreated, unresectable, stage IV UC. Searches included congress databases and articles published between 1990 and 2018. In order to align with the latest treatment paradigms in first-line advanced UC, a focused literature search was conducted to identify evidence supporting immuno-oncology (IO) agents.

Results: For advanced UC, guidelines universally recommend cisplatin-based chemotherapy as first-line treatment for eligible patients and carboplatin-based regimens for those unfit to receive cisplatin. Despite the evaluation of a number of different cytotoxic regimens over the years, including triplet combinations, survival outcomes have not improved markedly with chemotherapy. Median overall survival with standard of care chemotherapy is ~13 months. Based on the results of single-arm, phase II studies, recent treatment guidelines have included atezolizumab (anti-PD-L1) and pembrolizumab (anti-PD-1) as first-line options for cisplatin-ineligible patients whose tumors express high levels of PD-L1. However, emerging evidence from RCTs of IO agents, including both cisplatin-eligible and cisplatin-ineligible patients, suggest that survival times exceeding 20 months are possible.

Conclusions: After having reached a plateau with chemotherapy, the treatment landscape for advanced UC is evolving. Survival outcomes for patients with advanced UC are improving with treatment modalities involving IO agents.

Keywords: Immune checkpoint inhibitors; Platinum-based chemotherapy; Survival outcomes; Treatment guidelines; Urothelial carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / pathology
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology