Incontinence is when a person is not able to control their bowel or bladder. It may be caused by different types of treatment.
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The movement of waste through the large bowel can become faster after surgery or radiation therapy. This can mean you need to go to the toilet more urgently and more often. It may also result in a loss of control over bowel movements. Bowel surgery or radiation therapy may weaken the anus, making it difficult to hold on when you feel the need to empty your bowels, particularly if you have loose stools (diarrhoea).
This is when urine leaks from your bladder without your control. Bladder control may change after surgery or radiation therapy. For example, radiation therapy can irritate the lining of your bladder, because the bladder is located near the large bowel. Some people find they need to urinate more often, need to go in a hurry or don’t fully empty the bladder.
If you have bowel or bladder changes, you may feel embarrassed, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. Incontinence issues usually improve in a few months, but sometimes take years. Talk to your health care team about whether any bowel or bladder changes are likely to be permanent.
For ways to manage incontinence:
- Talk to your surgeon or GP about available treatments. They may refer you to the hospital continence nurse or physiotherapist, who can suggest exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
- Call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 to talk to a continence nurse about continence aids, if needed, or visit bladderbowel.gov.au.
- Visit the National Public Toilet Map to locate public toilets near you. You can also download the National Public Toilet Map App from the App Store (Apple phones) or Google Play (Android phones).
|The Australian Government’s Improving Bowel Function After Bowel Surgery booklet provides helpful tips about managing bowel problems. Download it online, or call 1800 33 00 66.|
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Craig Lynch, Colorectal Surgeon, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Tim Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, and Clinical Professor, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Adelaide, SA; Department of Dietetics, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Hooi Ee, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Dr Debra Furniss, Radiation Oncologist, Genesis CancerCare, QLD; Jocelyn Head, Consumer; Jackie Johnston, Palliative Care and Stomal Therapy Clinical Nurse Consultant, St Vincent’s Private Hospital, NSW; Zeinah Keen, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Elizabeth Murphy, Head, Colorectal Surgical Unit, Lyell McEwin Hospital, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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