A cancer diagnosis changes everything. It can affect everything from finances to living situations, and addressing this kind of life-altering health issue is surely going to affect changes in mental health. Those suffering from cancer also face the consequences that come with treating it. Chemotherapy leads to nausea, hair loss, and a weakened immune system as side effects. Surgical procedures designed to remove cancerous cells and growths come with the chance for infection and painful recovery times. For those diagnosed with bladder cancer, another side effect may arise; urinary incontinence, or light bladder leaks. While this may seem more like an annoying nuisance in comparison to some other side effects that accompany a cancer diagnosis, light bladder leaks can be a demeaning and embarrassing health problem for a large number of people every year.
What is bladder cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancer is “when cells that make up the urinary bladder start to grow out of control. As more cancer cells develop, they can form a tumor and, with time, spread to other parts of the body.” There are technically three types of bladder cancer. According to Healthline, they can be described as:
Transitional cell carcinoma – Transitional cell carcinoma is the most common type of bladder cancer. It begins in the transitional cells in the inner layer of the bladder. Transitional cells are cells that change shape without becoming damaged when the tissue is stretched.
Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cell carcinoma is a rare cancer in the United States. It begins when thin, flat squamous cells form in the bladder after a long-term infection or irritation in the bladder.
Adenocarcinoma – Adenocarcinoma is also a rare cancer in the United States. It begins when glandular cells form in the bladder after long-term bladder irritation and inflammation. Glandular cells are what make up the mucus-secreting glands in the body.
There are several causes of bladder cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following may contribute to a bladder cancer diagnosis:
- Smoking and other tobacco use
- Exposure to chemicals, especially working in a job that requires exposure to chemicals
- Past radiation exposure
- Chronic irritation of the lining of the bladder
- Parasitic infections, especially in people who are from or have traveled to certain areas outside the United States
It’s common knowledge that early diagnosis is key to successfully treating any form of cancer. Listening to your body for signs and symptoms, and going to the doctor for check-ups may help catch, diagnose and treat the cancer. If you have the following symptoms, talk to your doctor:
- Blood in urine (hematuria)
- Painful urination
- Pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Frequent urination
Unfortunately, these symptoms are also signs of other health problems like urinary tract infections or kidney stones. It is still important to talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms so that they can run the proper diagnostic tests and determine a treatment plan.
Bladder Cancer & Light Bladder Leaks
Being diagnosed with bladder cancer, or any form of cancer that involves the pelvic floor or muscles (cervical, prostate, rectal, etc.), increases the risk of developing urinary incontinence. But, as cancer research website Cure Today notes, it is often the treatment that leads to bladder leaks (specifically those attributed to Stress Incontinence). Even common procedures can lead to leaks. Cancer.net, a website dedicated to providing patients and loved ones with trusted information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), suggests the following treatments may lead to light bladder leaks:
Radiation Therapy – radiation to treat cancerous cells in the pelvic region may irritate the bladder.
Chemotherapy – may cause nerve damage, vomiting that strains the muscles controlling urination, or loss of hormones.
Surgery – may damage muscles or nerves that help control urination.
Bone marrow/stem cell transplantation with high-dose chemotherapy– may cause vomiting and bladder inflammation.
Treatments that cause early menopause and/or lower estrogen levels
Medicine that increases hydration or urine production – may make incontinence worse.
Often times, facing bladder leaks is the least of patients’ concerns when they’re fighting a cancer diagnosis and the even worse side-effects that come with treatment. That being said, bladder leaks are another sign from the body and they are worth noting and mentioning to your doctor.
The one silver lining in developing light bladder leaks as a result of bladder cancer or treatment is that this particular symptom is not exclusive to cancer patients. In fact, urinary incontinence is pretty common, affecting around 25 million adults in the US., so the treatment tools and support are out there and are widely available. The most common forms of treatment for those suffering from light bladder leaks as a result of bladder or other forms of pelvic cancer include pads and liners, medications, hormonal supplements, and physical therapy. Treatment options should be discussed with your doctor to find the option (or combination of options) best suited for you and your lifestyle.
Another solution for women that are experiencing leaks due to stress incontinence is a reusable, one-size bladder support device called Revive®. Revive is made with soft, flexible, skin-safe silicone to internally support the bladder to reduce leaks for up to 12 hours a day. The device is inserted and removed like a tampon and is designed to be worn, cleaned, and stored for the next use. The FDA-approved device is available over-the-counter at retailers nationwide in the feminine care aisle.