Objective To compare the immunological status of normal and peritumoral bladder walls, and to characterize immunocompetent cells before and during intravesical instillations of bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG).
Patients and methods Twenty-three patients with superficial urothelial bladder carcinoma (stages pTa to pT1, grades 1–3) were treated with six weekly instillations of 150 mg of BCG (Pasteur strain). Biopsies of cystoscopically normal bladder wall were taken before, 3 weeks and 3 months after BCG instillation. The controls comprised bladder biopsy specimens from 13 brain-dead ventilated kidney donors. Local infiltrating cell types, i.e. lymphocyte infiltrates (CD4, CD8, CD20, CD3, interleukin-2-receptor-positive, natural killer, γδ), macrophages and dendritic cells, adhesion and costimulatory molecules (ICAM-1 and B7-BB1) and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II antigens were assessed using semi-quantitative immunohistochemical analysis.
Results Before BCG the peritumoral bladder wall had fewer macrophages than control bladder wall. BCG treatment restored normal numbers of macrophages and enhanced T helper lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, natural killer cells, activated lymphocytes, dendritic cells, normal MHC class I, adhesion (ICAM-1) and costimulatory (B7-BB1) expression. The enhancement of these immunological variables was transient, with a return to baseline 3 months after BCG instillation.
Conclusions These results support the concept that there is a host-immune escape associated with bladder cancer. BCG therapy may temporarily restore impaired tumour rejection mechanisms in the peritumoral bladder wall, suggesting a need for maintenance therapy after the first course of BCG.