If you’re having treatment for cancer, you may find that you feel the need to go to the toilet more often. Frequent urination (peeing more) can be a troublesome and inconvenient side effect of cancer treatment.
However, the good news is there are steps you can take to help reduce the effects.
Why does cancer treatment make you pee more?
On average, people normally visit the toilet between four and eight times a day, and perhaps once during the night (known as nocturia). Any more than this might be classed as frequent urination.
Some cancer treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy, can cause problems with the bladder and urination, with the result that you feel the need to go to the loo more often. If you have radiation treatment in your pelvic area, this can irritate the lining of the bladder and the urinary tract.
Meanwhile, chemotherapy and biological therapy can damage cells in the bladder and kidneys. If you’ve had surgery to the pelvic area, including the prostate, bladder, reproductive organs or bowel, this can also cause issues with urination. Surgery can also increase the risk of a urinary infection, which can in turn make you need to pee more.
What can I do to stop peeing so much during treatment?
There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the impact of frequent urination, from making some simple diet and lifestyle changes, to exercises that are specially designed to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles – the muscles which support the bladder and bowel and help to control when you pee.
Eat a healthy diet
Certain types of food and drink are known to irritate the bladder, while some can act as a diuretic, stimulating the body’s production of urine. It’s a good idea to steer away from these types of food, which include chocolate, spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, fizzy drinks and artificial sweeteners, and to stick to a healthy balanced diet containing plenty of lean protein (such as chicken and fish), fruit and vegetables.
Be sure to include some high-fibre foods, to avoid constipation which can put extra pressure on your bladder and pelvic muscles.
Smoking can contribute to urinary issues following treatments like radiation, and it can also affect bone health for those undergoing hormone therapy, so avoiding cigarettes is advisable.
Adapt your fluid intake
If you’re having problems with frequent urination, you may feel like drinking less to try and help the situation! However, it’s very important to keep hydrated – and this is even more the case when you’re having cancer treatment.
Drinking regularly will not only help to flush out any chemicals and toxins, it will also help you avoid dehydration. This can cause the production of concentrated urine, which irritates the bladder and increases the urge to pee.
It can also be helpful to think about the times of day at which you’re drinking. To help reduce those nighttime visits to the bathroom, it’s a good idea to avoid drinking in the hours leading up to bedtime.
If you’re in the UK and suffering from problems with frequent urination as a result of cancer treatment, a Radar Key can give you access to thousands of disabled toilets across the country.
“Very helpful as I had recently been in hospital and found this to be clean with no spillage”. Kitty, Live Better With community member.
Do some gentle exercise
Staying as physically active as possible can help to keep your bowels moving, reducing the risk of constipation and associated bladder problems. Exercise will also help to promote a healthy weight and avoid placing any additional pressure on the pelvic muscles.
Trying some regular light exercise such as pilates or yoga can help to keep you mobile and strengthen and maintain your pelvic muscles, as well as boosting your mental well-being. The Live Better With community recommend Gentle Healing Yoga for Cancer, a DVD which contains a range of gentle exercises for all types of cancer.
“A really good workout but offering exactly the right level of challenge. The meditation at the end is fabulous!” PK, Live Better With community member
Pelvic floor exercises
Also known as kegel exercises, these are specifically designed to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, giving you better control and reducing the need to urinate so often during the day and night.
Kegel exercises involving tightening your pelvic floor muscles, by imagining that you’re trying to stop yourself from passing gas or urine, keeping the muscles held for 3-5 seconds, then relaxing for 3-5 seconds, and repeating this process 10 times. Doing this 3-4 times a day can have a significant effect.
Some people also find it helpful to use a pelvic floor trainer, such as the Elvie Trainer, which uses real-time biofeedback to track your progress and can help to keep you motivated.
Bladder retraining is a technique that’s designed to help increase bladder strength and control, by gradually increasing the amount of time you leave between visits to the bathroom. This is normally carried out over a period of around 12 weeks.
Talk to your medical team for further information and advice.
In some cases, it may be necessary to use medication or other interventions, such as injecting botox into the wall of the bladder, or nerve stimulation, to help reduce urinary frequency. If you’re struggling with bladder control, you should talk to your medical team.
Frequent trips to the bathroom can be an unpleasant and intrusive side effect of cancer treatment. However, with some simple lifestyle changes you can help to reduce the impact and live better.