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Managing urinary incontinence in cancer patients

December 1, 2023 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Dr Shauli Minkowitz explores the causes, types, and management strategies for urinary incontinence in cancer patients.

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Urinary incontinence is a distressing condition that affects many cancer patients undergoing treatment. While battling cancer is challenging in itself, dealing with urinary incontinence can further impact quality of life. Understanding and addressing this issue is essential to improve the overall well-being of those facing both cancer and incontinence.

Understanding urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence, commonly referred to as the involuntary leakage of urine, can occur in cancer patients for various reasons. Cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, and certain medications can weaken the pelvic floor muscles or irritate the bladder, leading to incontinence. Additionally, some cancers, like prostate or bladder cancer, can directly affect urinary function.

Types of urinary incontinence

  • Stress incontinence
    • This occurs when physical activities, like coughing, sneezing, or lifting, put pressure on the bladder, causing leakage.
  • Urge incontinence
    • Patients experience a sudden, intense urge to urinate, often leading to leakage before reaching the restroom.
  • Overflow incontinence
    • The bladder doesn’t empty properly, causing dribbling or continuous leakage.
  • Functional incontinence
    • Cancer patients may have physical or cognitive impairments that make it challenging to reach the restroom in time.

Management strategies

Pelvic floor exercises

Kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder control. You should consult a healthcare provider or physical therapist for guidance.


Depending on the type of incontinence, medications, such as anticholinergics or alpha-blockers, may be prescribed to manage symptoms. These should be discussed with an oncologist or urologist.

Behavioural therapies

Patients can benefit from bladder training, a technique that involves scheduled bathroom trips, to gradually increase the time between urination.

Dietary changes

Avoiding bladder irritants like caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods can help reduce incontinence episodes.

Incontinence products

Wearing absorbent products, such as pads or adult diapers, can provide a sense of security and comfort.

Surgical options

In some cases, surgical interventions, like a sling procedure or artificial urinary sphincter, may be considered for more severe incontinence.

Psychological support

Cancer patients facing urinary incontinence often experience emotional distress. It’s crucial to seek psychological support through counselling or support groups. Talking about concerns with healthcare providers and loved ones can also ease the emotional burden.

Final thought

Urinary incontinence is a common issue among cancer patients, but it can be managed effectively. By understanding the types and causes of incontinence and exploring various management strategies, you can regain control over your bladder function. Seeking professional advice and emotional support is essential in this journey towards improved quality of life during cancer treatment.

Dr Shauli Minkowitz

MEET THE EXPERT – Dr Shauli Minkowitz

Dr Shauli Minkowitz is a urologist practicing out of Sandton Mediclinic and Netcare Waterfall hospitals and is also the director of prostate cancer services at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital and an honorary lecturer at Wits University. He is a member of the Gauteng Uro-Oncology Forum and sits on the board of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa.

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