Urinary incontinence, or the loss of the ability to control urination, is common in men who have had surgery for prostate cancer. You should prepare for this possibility and understand that, for a while at least, urinary incontinence may complicate your life.
It is also important to know that doctors continue to improve treatment for prostate cancer to lessen the chance of becoming incontinent after surgery.
Why do prostate cancer treatments cause urinary incontinence?
To understand why urinary incontinence is common after prostate cancer treatment, it is important to know a little about how the bladder holds urine.
When urine is emptied into the bladder from the kidneys, it is kept inside the body by a couple of valves that stay closed until you “tell” them to open when you urinate. The prostate gland, which surrounds the tube that allows urine to flow outside the body, also helps to hold back urine until given the OK.
Removing the prostate through surgery disrupts the way your bladder holds urine and can result in urine leakage.
What are some new techniques that reduce the chance of becoming incontinent?
When removing the prostate, surgeons try to save as much of the area around the bladder valves as possible, thus limiting damage to the valves.
Still, at this point, any man who is undergoing surgery to treat prostate cancer should expect to develop some degree of urinary incontinence. With the newer techniques, many men will have only temporary problems controlling their urine, and many will eventually regain full control of their bladder.
What can be done to treat urinary incontinence after prostate cancer treatment?
There are several treatments for urinary incontinence. Many doctors prefer to start with behavioral techniques that train men to control their ability to hold in their urine. A popular set of exercises, called “Kegel exercises,” strengthens the muscles you squeeze when trying to stop urinating midstream. These exercises can be combined with biofeedback programs that help you train these muscles even better.
Your doctor can also perform surgery to implant a male sling or an artificial urinary sphincter if urinary incontinence fails to resolve with time.
You may see advertisements for drugs to treat urinary incontinence and "overactive bladder." As the latter name suggests, these drugs treat an "overactive" bladder -- not a bladder in which the valves have been damaged -- and usually do not work for incontinence following prostate cancer treatment.