Understanding Common Complications of Bladder Cancer

Health Writer
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A bladder cancer diagnosis can have both a physical and emotional impact on your life, and the potential complications can come from the cancer itself or from treatment. Knowing what to expect as your body responds to cancer and treatment will allow you to stay in tune with your body and seek solutions as challenges present themselves.

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The spreading of bladder cancer

Bladder cancers often start in the inner lining of the bladder. If the bladder cancer is not detected early, cancer cells can spread through the lining and into the bladder wall. From there, bladder cancer can spread to other organs surrounding the bladder, such as the prostate or uterus. Another way bladder cancer can spread is through the lymphatic system or blood cells. If this happens, new sites of cancer can develop in other parts of the body that are not close to the bladder.

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The emotional impact

A bladder cancer diagnosis can yield many emotions as you grapple with how the illness can change your life, body, and finances. In addition, a fear of death can be challenging to cope with. Every two out of 10 patients diagnosed with cancer suffers from depression. If you think you may be experiencing depression after your diagnosis, take the first step to getting help by letting your doctor know.

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Post-surgery issues and urinary diversion

If you have surgery to remove part (partial cystectomy) or all (radical cystectomy) of your bladder, you may experience changes in the way you urinate. Having part of your bladder removed may mean that you urinate more frequently because your bladder won’t hold as much urine as it used to. If all of your bladder is removed, reconstructive surgery is needed for your body to find another way to store and release urine. This might require learning how to live life with a urostomy.

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Urinary incontinence: Part 1

Sometimes bladder surgery or radiation therapy can weaken the sphincter — the muscle in the bladder that keeps urine inside. This can lead to stress-related urinary incontinence, which is an uncontrollable leak of urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze, or exercise.

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Urinary incontinence: Part 2

Radiation and chemotherapy therapy can also cause nerve damage in the bladder that leads to “urge urinary incontinence,” or a sudden, strong impulse to urinate that is followed by uncontrollable leaking. Your doctor may recommend behavioral, medical, or surgical treatments depending on the severity of your urinary incontinence.

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Sexual effects of bladder surgery in men

Men with bladder cancer who have their entire bladder removed experience sexual effects as a result of having their prostate and seminal vesicles removed. As a result, they will no longer make semen and may have nerve damage that interferes with their ability to have an erection. However, it is possible for men to regain the ability to have an erection over time.

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Sexual effects of bladder surgery in women

Women with bladder cancer who have their entire bladder removed may also have their uterus, cervix, and a part of their vagina removed. After surgery, they can experience sexual effects like discomfort during intercourse along with trouble becoming aroused and experiencing an orgasm. Vaginal reconstruction may help with preserving sexual comfort and enjoyment.

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Ureter obstruction

Sometimes cancer growths can cause a blockage in the ureters — the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. Ureter obstruction can be painful and if it left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure or even death.

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Anemia in people with bladder cancer

People with bladder cancer may experience anemia, a condition that happens when your body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the other cells in your body. Anemia in people with bladder cancer can have many causes, including the cancer itself or the therapies used to treat the cancer, such as radiation or chemotherapy.