Being diagnosed with cancer can possibly be the worst and most devastating news someone could get in their lives. Everything is upturned by a single diagnosis – healthcare, relationships, work, finances, mental and physical health. With a life-altering medical situation as serious as cancer, it is unlikely that light bladder leaks are the first concern patients and their loved ones have. While in comparison, yes, these leaks are significantly less disruptive than the other trials of the disease and the side effects of treatment, but they’re still a side effect that could impact mental and physical health even further.
What are Light Bladder Leaks
When we say light bladder leaks, it’s important to distinguish what kind of incontinence you’re experiencing with a healthcare professional to determine the best solutions moving forward. There are three main kinds of urinary incontinence that cancer patients may experience:
Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) – In the case of SUI, light bladder leaks occur due to increased pressure on the bladder or urinary tract that the pelvic floor muscles and/or urinary sphincter are too weak to hold back the urine that is being expelled because of the pressure. The triggers for these leaks can be minimal, as small as a sneeze or laugh or more noticeably involved movements like running or horseback riding.
Overflow Incontinence – This happens when the bladder doesn’t empty itself completely, resulting in a dribble of urine. Sometimes people with overflow incontinence never get the message to go, and when they do the stream is noticeably slow and weak. This is a result of the bladder muscles not being able to contract correctly due to nerve damage from surgery or disease.
Overactive Bladder (Urge Incontinence) – Overactive Bladder (OAB), sometimes referred to as Urge Incontinence is when your bladder starts to contract to release urine, regardless of how full it is, causing a sudden urge to go that is sometimes unavoidably leaked. This can be caused by nerve damage or a weakened pelvic floor.
As we mentioned before, while urinary incontinence may not be at the top of the list of questions or concerns for your healthcare professionals, it is important to discern what kind of incontinence you’re experiencing. This is to ensure that you’re taking the best steps forward for your health, well-being, and comfort during treatment and recovery.
Why Cancer Patients Suffer from Urinary Incontinence
There are several reasons that a cancer patient may experience light bladder leaks, varying from the type of cancer to treatment type. You’ve probably guessed that cancers involving the pelvic floor and surrounding tissue may lead to incontinence. Those who have been diagnosed with prostate, colorectal, bladder and urethra, cervical, or uterine cancers are more likely to experience leaks as they all directly impact this group of muscles, nerves, and tissue.
Nerve Damage – brain or spinal cord cancers may impact the nerves that send messages from the brain to the urinary system, leading to involuntary leaks.
Hormonal Changes – Those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer experience hormonal changes, including fluctuation in estrogen, the hormone that helps line and support the urethra.
Added Stress – Chronic coughing, which is most closely related to lung or esophageal cancer adds extra stress to the pelvic floor muscles and nerves.
Some patients may develop light bladder leaks as a result of the cancer treatments they’re going through. Radiation or surgery that directly interferes with the pelvic floor muscles or nerves can lead to bladder irritation and weakening, causing leaks. Chemotherapy drugs can cause bladder irritation and vomiting, the perfect condition for a bladder leak.
There are plenty of options for women that are going through a cancer diagnosis or are a survivor experiencing leaks after treatment.
Pads & Liners – These pads and pantyliners are made specifically for the absorption of urine to make sure you feel and look dry for hours at a time. It is important to change these products every couple of hours to avoid excess liquid, odor, irritation, or infection.
Kegels – Kegels are exercises meant to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that have been atrophied or damaged throughout the course of diagnoses and treatment. Check out our blog post on the pros and cons of these exercises.
Hormonal Solutions – Some women may be eligible for a hormonal treatment that would replace the lost estrogen that is supporting the urethra. This is only an option for women that truly have a deficit of the hormone and is not be a universal solution for all patients.
Another solution for women is the new revolutionary bladder support device that works from the inside out to protect against leaks for up to 12 hours a day. Revive® comes from the minds of the company Rinovum, which is focused on women’s general and reproductive health. Revive® is inserted vaginally, like a tampon for comfortable, effective support. The device is one size, soft, flexible, and reusable for up to 30 uses. Revive is available over-the-counter at a retailer near you!