Trouble controlling the flow of urine (urinary incontinence) is a common side effect of some treatments. After prostate surgery, issues with incontinence are common for several weeks or months and usually improve slowly over time. You may find that you lose a few drops of urine when you cough, sneeze, strain or lift something heavy. Some people also leak some urine during sex. For others, symptoms may be more severe and require the use of incontinence pads.
In some cases, radiation therapy can reduce how much urine the bladder can store, irritate the bladder, narrow the urethra and weaken the pelvic floor muscles. This can lead to feeling like you just can’t wait (urinary urgency) and difficulty passing urine. Sometimes, medicines can improve urine flow – ask your doctor if this is a option for you.
Coping with urinary incontinence
- Find out how to do pelvic floor exercises. Starting pelvic floor exercises before surgery can help reduce the likelihood of ongoing urinary incontinence after surgery. The exercises are also important after surgery. Ask your doctor, urologist, continence physiotherapist or continence nurse for more information.
- Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine – concentrated urine can irritate the bladder.
- Avoid drinking less fluids because you are afraid of leakage. Dehydration can cause constipation, which can also lead to leakage.
- Limit tea and coffee as they contain caffeine, which can irritate the bladder. Alcohol and carbonated drinks may also irritate the bladder.
- Talk to a continence nurse about continence aids if needed. These aids can include absorbent pads to wear in your underpants, and bed and chair covers. The nurse may also recommend medicines or special clamps.
- Ask your continence nurse or GP if you can apply for the Continence Aids Payment Scheme. This is a yearly payment to help cover the cost of continence products.
- If incontinence hasn’t improved after 12 months, talk to your doctor or urologist about whether surgical treatment is an option. For example, a surgically inserted sling or artificial sphincter work by pulling the urethra up to help the sphincter muscle close more effectively.
- Get resources from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and the Continence Foundation of Australia.
- See Exercise for people living with cancer, where you can get information and watch exercise videos designed for people affected by cancer.
Dr Amy Hayden, Radiation Oncologist, Westmead and Blacktown Hospitals, and Chair, Faculty of Radiation Genito-Urinary Group (FROGG), The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, NSW; Prof Shomik Sengupta, Professor of Surgery and Deputy Head, Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University, and Visiting Urologist and Uro-Oncology Lead, Urology Department, Eastern Health, VIC; A/Prof Arun Azad, Medical Oncologist, Urological and Prostate Cancers, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ken Bezant, Consumer; Dr Marcus Dreosti, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare, and Clinical Strategy Lead, Oncology Australia, SA; A/Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician, Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics and The University of Western Australia, WA; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Department of Urology, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and HeadwayHealth Clinical and Consulting Psychology Services, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Western Australia; Graham Rees, Consumer; Kerry Santoro, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; A/Prof David Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW; Matthew Starr, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. This booklet is funded through the generosity of the people of Australia.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment