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Understand the cause of incontinence and learn how to manage and treat this side effect.

Men in a grey suit in a toilet

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control, ranging from some leaking to complete loss of bladder control. Other urinary symptoms may include pain during urination, increased urgency, and urinary frequency. Urinary problems can be caused by a number of factors. However, they are typically caused by damage to the nerves and muscles that control urinary function during primary treatment for prostate cancer.

There are several types of incontinence, the most common of which are stress incontinence and urge incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine when coughing, sneezing, straining, or doing anything that puts stress on the abdomen. This is the most common type for prostate cancer survivors. Some people with severe stress incontinence have nearly constant urine loss (sometimes referred to as total incontinence).
  • Urge incontinence occurs when you feel the “urge” to urinate but cannot make it to the toilet in time. This is generally due to bladder spasms and often responds to medical therapy.

Urinary incontinence may be short or long term as a result of treatment for the cancer. Most men experience quick improvement over the first several months. However, there are ways to manage long-term incontinence and live a full life.

What causes urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the primary urinary side effect for men undergoing a prostatectomy (surgery). About 25% of men report frequent leakage or no control at six months after surgery.

Radiation treatment also causes issues with incontinence. External beam radiation can irritate both the urethra and the bladder causing swelling of the prostate.

Treatment options for urinary incontinence

There are many ways to manage or treat urinary incontinence. For most men, symptoms of urinary incontinence tend to lessen over time. However, urinary incontinence for any amount can be uncomfortable and frustrating to deal with it. Consider the following management options.