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Radiation Therapy Side Effects – Urinary and Bladder Changes

What they are

Radiation therapy can cause urinary and bladder problems, which can include:

  • Burning or pain when you begin to urinate or after you empty your bladder
  • Trouble starting to urinate
  • Trouble emptying your bladder
  • Frequent, urgent need to urinate
  • Cystitis, a swelling (inflammation) in your urinary tract
  • Incontinence, when you cannot control the flow of urine from your bladder, especially when coughing or sneezing
  • Frequent need to get up during sleep to urinate
  • Blood in your urine
  • Bladder spasms, which are like painful muscle cramps

Why they occur

Urinary and bladder problems may occur when people get radiation therapy to the prostate or bladder. Radiation therapy can harm the healthy cells of the bladder wall and urinary tract, which can cause inflammation, ulcers, and infection.

Radiation to the shaded area may cause urinary and bladder changes.

How long they last

Urinary and bladder problems often start 3 to 5 weeks after radiation therapy begins. Most problems go away 2 to 8 weeks after treatment is over.

Ways to manage

  • Drink a lot of fluids. This means 6 to 8 cups of fluids each day. Drink enough fluids so that your urine is clear to light yellow in color.
  • Avoid coffee, black tea, alcohol, spices, and all tobacco products.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse if you think you have urinary or bladder problems. He or she may ask for a urine sample to make sure that you do not have an infection.
  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have incontinence. He or she may refer you to a physical therapist who will assess your problem. The therapist can give you exercises to improve bladder control.
  • Medicine. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if your problems are caused by an infection. Other medicines can help you urinate, reduce burning or pain, and ease bladder spasms.
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