Urinary problems after prostate cancer

This page tells you about urinary problems after prostate cancer treatment, including leakage of urine (incontinence). You can find information about

Types of urinary problems

After treatment for prostate cancer you may have problems passing urine. These effects last for a few weeks for most people and may include

  • Needing to pass urine more often and particularly at night
  • A sudden need to pass urine (urgency)
  • Poor flow of urine
  • A feeling that the bladder has not emptied properly
  • Blood in the urine
  • Leakage of urine (urinary incontinence)

As well as the effects above, radiotherapy may also cause

  • A burning sensation when passing urine
  • Bladder irritation (like cystitis)

Unfortunately, some men find that in the long term they don’t have complete control over their bladder. This can lead to a range of situations from occasional dribbling or leaking of urine to complete loss of control. Healthcare professionals call this urinary incontinence.

Some men find that they have difficulty passing urine.

Urine leakage

Often, men have temporary urine leakage after prostate surgery or radiotherapy. Your doctor will give you exercises to strengthen the muscles that control urine flow. The problem usually gets better after a few weeks. There is a lot you can do to manage it in the meantime.

Permanent incontinence after radiotherapy is quite rare these days, but it can happen. After removal of the prostate (radical prostatectomy) about 1 in 5 men (20%) have long term problems with slight urine leakage. About 1 in 20 men (5%) have more serious long term incontinence problems.

If urine leakage becomes a long term problem your doctor can refer you to a specialist incontinence clinic. Staff there can help you with further muscle exercises, bladder training and medicines.

Managing urinary incontinence due to prostate cancer

Recently there has been a lot of progress in dealing with urine leakage. There are many ways of managing the problem.

If urine leakage becomes a long term problem, discuss this with your doctor or nurse. They can help or can refer you to a specialist incontinence clinic. Staff there can help you with muscle exercises, bladder training and medicines.

Not being able to pass urine

Some men have problems passing urine. This can occur after radiotherapy to the prostate. It is due to a narrowing of the tube carrying urine from the bladder. This narrowing is called a urethral stricture. In an extreme case, you may not be able to pass urine at all. You can have treatment for this. The narrow area is stretched under anaesthetic during a short operation. Up to 1 in 12 men (8%) need this operation some years after radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer.

Heroes of Hope

Read the stories of 15 Irish men who have all be treated for prostate cancer. Many of these men dealt with incontinence after their initial treatment but all are now back to full health.

Read Heroes of Hope: Stories of Prostate Cancer Survival