Incontinence caused by bowel cancer

After treatment for bowel cancer, many people find that they need to adjust to changes to their digestion or bowel function. They may have issues with incontinence.

Faecal incontinence – 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 motions called faecal incontinence.

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).

Urinary incontinence – Some people have difficulty controlling when they pass urine, this is known as urinary incontinence. They may find they need to urinate more often or don’t fully empty the bladder. For example, radiation therapy can irritate the lining of your bladder, because the bladder is located near the large bowel. This can cause temporary urinary incontinence.

If you have bladder or bowel 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.

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This information was last reviewed in February 2017
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