Some treatments for cancer such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy can have side effects on your bladder and urinary tract. Although this can be uncomfortable and in some cases painful, there are ways you can help to prevent and manage any discomfort.
In this article, we’re going to talk about why some treatments may affect your bladder or urinary tract, and how to manage and prevent any discomfort now and in the future.
Why do certain treatments case bladder and/or urinary problems?
Sometimes, radiotherapy, certain types of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery can affect kidneys, bladder and urinary tract. This can occur if your treatment is focussed around the pelvic or abdominal area.
Radiotherapy to the pelvic or abdominal area (including the reproductive organs, the bladder, colon and rectum) can cause irritation the bladder and urinary tract. You might notice problems begin only after several weeks of radiotherapy, and subside a few weeks after treatment has completed.
Chemotherapy and immunotherapy
Some types of chemotherapy and immunotherapy can cause damage to cells in the bladder and kidneys. This is because kidneys break down chemotherapy drugs to remove them from the body in a process that can damage cells in the kidneys and bladder.
But not all chemotherapy drugs cause this side effect. It can also depend on the dose, or if you already have kidney disease or kidney problems.
Chemotherapy drugs that could have this side effect are:
- Carboplatin (Paraplantin, Paraplatin AQ)
- Ifosfamide (Ifex)
If you’ve had surgery on your bladder, uterus, ureta, prostate, vagina or cervix then this can also cause urinary problems. You may also have an increased risk of developing a urinary tract infection. Luckily, there are things you can do to protect against this, manage or ease symptoms to help you get back to feeling more yourself!
Symptoms of a bladder or urinary problem
If you think you might have a urinary problem, speak with your doctor about any symptoms you have. It may be that some of the changes or symptoms are normal. Your health care team will be able to diagnose what is causing symptoms, as well as the best steps to take to feel better.
Symptoms of cystitis caused by radiation include:
- Pain or a burning feeling when you urinate
- Blood in your urine
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently, frequently or/and constantly
- Cramps, spasms and discomfort in the pelvic area
- Trouble emptying your bladder completely
- Leaking urine when sneezing or coughing
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI)
If bacteria has entered into your urethra - which may be more likely to happen if your urethra or bladder is already irritated or inflamed - you may be at more risk of getting a UTI.
Although it could be mild at first, any infection left untreated including a UTI could potentially develop into a more serious condition that needs immediate medical attention. Antibiotics will likely be prescribed to kill a bacterial infection like a UTI, but the earlier you catch it, the better. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health care team immediately for their advice.
Symptoms of a UTI can include:
- A constant need to urinate
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- Urine that is cloudy or red
- A fever of 38°C or higher (it's worth noting that different cancer centres define a fever with different temperatures, so it's best to check with your centre)
- Pain in your lower back or abdomen
- Difficulty urinating
Symptoms of irritation after surgery
After surgery, you may notice symptoms such as:
- Urinary incontinence (urinating without meaning to)
- Being (or feeling as though you are) unable to empty your bladder completely
If you do, contact your healthcare team and they will be able to help.
Tips for living better with bladder and urinary problems
Bladder and urinary problems can be uncomfortable, but if you do find yourself having problems, these steps may be advised to help you feel better. Even if you have no symptoms, following these tips may also help to prevent problems arising in the future.
These tips can also apply to anyone, regardless of if you’ve had treatment for cancer or not. It’s all-round good practice for optimal bladder and urinary health.
You may also find these products, specially designed for bladder issues such as incontinence may help.