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Urinary problems after prostate cancer

Men and women discussing prostate cancer

This page tells you about urinary problems after prostate cancer treatment, including leakage of urine (incontinence). You can find information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Urinary problems after prostate cancer

You may have urinary problems before and after prostate cancer treatment. These include urine leakage and difficulty passing urine.

Urine leakage

Unfortunately, after either surgery or radiotherapy, many men find that they have some urine leakage for a short time. This covers a range of situations, from occasional dribbling or leaking of urine to complete loss of bladder control.

If urine leakage becomes a long term problem, discuss this with your doctor or nurse. They can help or can refer you to a specialist incontinence clinic. Staff there can help you with muscle exercises, bladder training and medicines. There are many ways of managing urine leakage. Community continence advisers can also visit you at home. You can also get helpful information from the Bladder and Bowel Foundation.

Difficulty passing urine

Some men have difficulty passing urine. This can be due to narrowing of the tube that takes urine from the bladder to outside the body. This problem is called a urethral stricture. In an extreme case, you may not be able to pass urine at all. You can have treatment for this. The narrow area is stretched under anaesthetic during a short operation. Up to 1 in 12 men (8%) need this operation some years after radiotherapy to the prostate gland.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with prostate cancer section.

 

 

Types of urinary problems

After treatment for prostate cancer you may have problems passing urine. These effects last for a few weeks for most people and may include

  • Needing to pass urine more often and particularly at night
  • A sudden need to pass urine (urgency)
  • Poor flow of urine
  • A feeling that the bladder has not emptied properly
  • Blood in the urine
  • Leakage of urine (urinary incontinence)

As well as the effects above, radiotherapy may also cause

  • A burning sensation when passing urine
  • Bladder irritation (like cystitis)

There is information about coping with short term problems such as bladder irritation in our section about pelvic radiotherapy side effects.

Unfortunately, after either surgery or radiotherapy, some men find that in the long term they don't have complete control over their bladder. This covers a range of situations, from occasional dribbling or leaking of urine to complete loss of control. The medical term for this is urinary incontinence.

Some men find that they have difficulty passing urine.

 

Urine leakage

Often, men have temporary urine leakage after prostate surgery or radiotherapy. Your doctor will give you exercises to strengthen the muscles that control urine flow. The problem usually gets better after a few weeks. There is a lot you can do to manage it in the meantime.

Permanent incontinence after radiotherapy is quite rare these days, but it can happen. After removal of the prostate (radical prostatectomy) about 1 in 5 men (20%) have long term problems with slight urine leakage. About 1 in 20 men (5%) have more serious long term incontinence problems. 

If urine leakage becomes a long term problem your doctor can refer you to a specialist incontinence clinic. Staff there can help you with further muscle exercises, bladder training and medicines. Community continence advisers can also visit you at home. You can also get helpful information from the Bladder and Bowel Foundation.

 

Managing urinary incontinence due to prostate cancer

Recently there has been a lot of progress in dealing with urine leakage. There are many ways of managing the problem. 

If urine leakage becomes a long term problem, discuss this with your doctor or nurse. They can help or can refer you to a specialist incontinence clinic. Staff there can help you with muscle exercises, bladder training and medicines. Community continence advisers can also visit you at home.

You can also get helpful information from the Bladder and Bowel Foundation.

 

Not being able to pass urine

Some men have problems passing urine. This can occur after radiotherapy to the prostate. It is due to a narrowing of the tube carrying urine from the bladder. This narrowing is called a urethral stricture. In an extreme case, you may not be able to pass urine at all. You can have treatment for this. The narrow area is stretched under anaesthetic during a short operation. Up to 1 in 12 men (8%) need this operation some years after radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer.

 

More information about urine problems

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions.

Our prostate cancer organisations page gives details of other people who can give information about prostate cancer treatments and their side effects. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group.

Our prostate cancer reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources discussing the side effects of treatments.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 27 February 2014