Managing bladder problems

Bladder problems can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about. If you’re having difficulties, you may feel worried about going out and taking part in social occasions. However, there are many things that can be done to manage symptoms.

It’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re having problems. They can refer you to a specialist in bladder control problems, such as a urologist or continence nurse, for assessment and treatment.

Incomplete bladder emptying

Sometimes nerve damage means the bladder muscle can’t squeeze strongly enough to empty the bladder completely. The most common symptoms of this are:

  • difficulty passing urine
  • a delay in starting to pass urine
  • a weak stream of urine
  • straining to release urine.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out as they can lead to more serious problems if left untreated. There are other common conditions that can cause problems with bladder emptying, such as an enlarged prostate gland in men, so this may not be related to your cancer treatment. Your doctor or continence specialist will do tests to find out the cause so you can be offered appropriate treatment.

Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence can vary in its effects. For some people it means leaking just a few drops of urine when sneezing or coughing. For others it may mean a total loss of control over passing urine.

If you have symptoms, a continence specialist can assess the severity and type of incontinence you have and recommend treatment based on this.

One of the most common treatments for urinary incontinence is exercises to strengthen the muscles that are important for bladder control (pelvic floor muscles). These exercises can also help with bowel control. The Bladder and Bowel Foundation also has a fact sheet with instructions on how to do them.

If you find it difficult to learn pelvic floor exercises, you may be offered a procedure called biofeedback training to help you. As you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, the pressure is measured by sensors. The results are either shown on a computer screen or they register as a sound. This helps you to know when you’re squeezing the muscles in the right way. Your continence adviser or physiotherapist can advise you on where you can get this training.

Coping with urinary incontinence

There are specialist products and practical things that can help you to cope with urinary incontinence while you’re waiting for a diagnosis or for a treatment to work. A continence specialist can give you more information about the different products available and can help you select which type best suits your needs. The Bladder and Bowel Foundation can also offer advice and support via its helpline and website.

Back to Long-term and late effects

Changes in how your bowel works

Treatment for rectal cancer may lead to changes in how your bowel works. These can usually be managed successfully over time.