Supportive care for bladder cancer
Supportive care helps you meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of bladder cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.
Recovering from bladder cancer and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person. Recovery depends on the stage of the disease, the type of treatments you have and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects.
Talk to your healthcare team if you have concerns about the following.
Self-esteem and body image
How you feel about or see yourself is called self-esteem. Body image is your perception of your own body.
Bladder cancer and its treatments can affect your self-esteem and body image in different ways. People who have a urostomy or urinary incontinence may feel uncomfortable around others.
Some women may feel differently about their bodies and themselves after a radical cystectomy, which includes removing the uterus. Changes in sexual function after surgery or radiation therapy may affect a person’s self-esteem.
Counselling and emotional support can help you cope with changes in your body image and self-esteem.
Find out more about self-esteem and body image.
Living with an ostomy
Some people will have an ostomy after a radical cystectomy. An ostomy that creates a way for urine to leave the body is called a urostomy.
Living with an ostomy may be frightening at first. It takes time and patience to learn to care for a urostomy. Specially trained healthcare professionals called enterostomal therapists teach ostomy care after surgery. They also offer support and advice after someone is discharged from the hospital.
Local and national ostomy groups and associations provide support and information to people living with an ostomy.
Find out more about living with an ostomy.
Loss of bladder control
Loss of bladder control, or urinary incontinence, is the involuntary passing of urine or the inability to control urination. Some people have loss of bladder control after surgery or radiation therapy for bladder cancer.
There are several ways to manage and help people cope with loss of bladder control, including protective products, diet changes, exercises, medicines and surgery.
Find out more about urinary incontinence.
Fertility problems can develop after treatment with a radical cystectomy, radiation therapy or chemotherapy for bladder cancer. These problems, including infertility (the inability to conceive a child), can affect both men and women.
If you are concerned about fertility, talk to your doctor and healthcare team before treatment starts.
Find out more about fertility problems.
Some treatments for bladder cancer, including a radical cystectomy, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, can cause changes in sexuality and sexual function. Sexual side effects depend on the type of treatment and affect men and women differently.
In men, treatments for bladder cancer may cause:
- dry orgasm (without semen) when the prostate gland is removed
- erectile dysfunction (also called impotence)
In women, treatments for bladder cancer may cause:
- infertility when the uterus and ovaries are removed
- treatment-induced menopause (including vaginal dryness) when the ovaries are removed or treated with radiation
- painful or difficult intercourse if part of the vagina is removed or radiation therapy causes vaginal narrowing
Counselling and education can improve sexuality and help people cope with these concerns. Supportive measures such as lubricants for vaginal dryness and medication such as hormone replacement therapy help to manage treatment-induced menopause. There are several types of treatments available for erectile dysfunction including pills and implants.
Questions to ask about supportive care
To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about supportive care after treatment.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.