Incontinence is when a person is not able to control their bowel or bladder. It may be caused by different types of treatment for bowel cancer.
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After surgery or radiation therapy, the movement of waste through the large bowel can become faster. This can mean that you feel you can’t wait when you need to go to the toilet (urgency) and you need to go 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 bowel movements (diarrhoea).
This is when urine leaks from your bladder without you being able to control it. 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.
While you may feel embarrassed if you have bowel or bladder changes, there are ways to manage the symptoms. Incontinence usually improves in a few months, but sometimes take years. Talk to your treatment team about whether any bowel or bladder changes are likely to be permanent.
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.
- Find out the location of toilets near where you are. Visit toiletmap.gov.au or 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.
I literally had to sprint to the toilet when I had to go. At six months, the sprinting slowed down. At twelve months, I no longer had to sprint.Richard
A/Prof David A Clark, Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and The University of Queensland, QLD, and The University of Sydney, NSW; A/Prof Siddhartha Baxi, Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director, GenesisCare Gold Coast, QLD; Dr Hooi Ee, Specialist Gastroenterologist and Head, Department of Gastroenterology, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Annie Harvey, Consumer; A/Prof Louise Nott, Medical Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Hobart, TAS; Caley Schnaid, Accredited Practising Dietitian, GenesisCare, St Leonards and Frenchs Forest, NSW; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Alina Stoita, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, NSW; Catherine Trevaskis, Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Richard Vallance, Consumer.
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