Urinary and Bladder Problems
Some cancer treatments, such as those listed below, may cause urinary and bladder problems:
- Radiation therapy to the pelvis (including reproductive organs, the bladder, colon and rectum) can irritate the bladder and urinary tract. These problems often start several weeks after radiation therapy begins and go away several weeks after treatment has been completed.
- Some types of chemotherapy and immunotherapy can also affect or damage cells in the bladder and kidneys.
- Surgery to remove the prostate (prostatectomy), bladder cancer surgery, and surgery to remove a woman’s uterus, the tissue on the sides of the uterus, the cervix, and the top part of the vagina (radical hysterectomy) can also cause urinary problems. These types of surgery may also increase the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Symptoms of a urinary problem
Talk with your doctor or nurse to learn what symptoms you may experience and ask which ones to call about. Some urinary or bladder changes may be normal, such as changes to the color or smell of your urine caused by some types of chemotherapy. Your health care team will determine what is causing your symptoms and will advise on steps to take to feel better.
Irritation of the bladder lining (radiation cystitis):
- pain or a burning feeling when you urinate
- blood in your urine (hematuria)
- trouble starting to urinate
- trouble emptying your bladder completely (urinary retention)
- feeling that you need to urinate urgently or frequently
- leaking a little urine when you sneeze or cough
- bladder spasms, cramps, or discomfort in the pelvic area
Urinary tract infection (UTI):
- pain or a burning feeling when you urinate
- urine that is cloudy or red
- a fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher, chills, and fatigue
- pain in your back or abdomen
- difficulty urinating or not being able to urinate
In people being treated for cancer, a UTI can turn into a serious condition that needs immediate medical care. Antibiotics will be prescribed if you have a bacterial infection.
Symptoms that may occur after surgery:
- leaking urine (urinary incontinence)
- trouble emptying your bladder completely
Ways to prevent or manage
Here are some steps you may be advised to take to feel better and to prevent problems:
- Drink plenty of liquids. Most people need to drink at least 8 cups of fluid each day, so that urine is light yellow or clear. You’ll want to stay away from things that can make bladder problems worse. These include caffeine, drinks with alcohol, spicy foods, and tobacco products.
- Prevent urinary tract infections. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about ways to lower your chances of getting a urinary tract infection. These may include going to the bathroom often, wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting pants, learning about safe and sanitary practices for catheterization, taking showers instead of baths, and checking with your nurse before using products such as creams or lotions near your genital area.
Talking with your health care team
Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:
- What symptoms or problems should I call you about?
- What steps can I take to feel better?
- How much should I drink each day? What liquids are best for me?
- Are there certain drinks or foods that I should avoid?
Listen to tips on how to manage changes when you urinate caused by cancer treatments such as radiation therapy.
(Type: MP3 | Time: 3:04 | Size: 2.9MB)
Radiation Therapy Audio Transcript
What To Do About Changes When You Urinate
What to do about changes when you urinate caused by radiation therapy.
Having problems when you urinate? Listen to solutions from other people undergoing radiation therapy. Also, hear advice from Dr. Ross. Then talk with your own doctor or nurse to learn more.
Tip number 1: Drink lots of liquids each day.
It's good for your urine to be clear or a pale yellow color. My doctor says that tells you you're getting enough liquids. Most people find drinking about 8 cups of liquid a day does the trick. Of course, check to make sure that's the best amount for you, too.
Tip number 2: Water is wonderful, but you may want more zip in your sip.
I like water, but found it was hard to get enough water each day. I was glad to learn that Jell-O and soups also count as liquids. To add some zip to what I drink, I have water with a little lemon and watered-down juices.
Tip number 3: Lose the booze.
My doctor told me that wine, liquor, or even beer could really bother my bladder. So now I limit these liquids. Some people may need to stay away from wine, liquor, and beer altogether to avoid irritating their bladder.
My doctor also told me to stay away from caffeine in coffee, colas, or teas. They could make my bladder problems worse. I now choose flavored decaf coffees and tasty herbal teas.
Hi, I'm Dr. Ross and you just heard 3 great tips to keep bladder problems under control.
Miguel offered that drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water will keep your urine the clear or pale yellow color it should be. He mentioned checking with your doctor first to make sure that this is the best amount for you. That's a good idea.
Cara suggested that in addition to drinking water, you might want to try soups, Jell-O, or watered-down juices to get in all your liquids each day.
And Rodney said to limit or stay away from wine, liquor, and beer since these fluids can irritate the bladder. He's also trying to stay away from caffeine in coffee, colas, and teas, which could make his bladder problems worse. All good tips.
I want to end with information about when to call your doctor if you're having bladder problems. Always get in touch with your doctor if you see a reddish color in your urine. This could mean blood in the urine.
Let your doctor know if you feel burning or cramping or if you have any pain. Those could be signs of an infection. Tell your doctor if you feel like you have to urinate right away. And call if you feel you can't get all the urine out or if the urine leaks from your bladder when you sneeze or cough.
Your health care team wants to work with you to help you manage any bladder side effects. So talk with them. There may be medicines or exercises to help with some of these problems. And the good news is that most bladder problems go away after treatment.