How to Manage Side Effects of Bladder Cancer Treatments

Common bladder cancer treatments

According to the American Cancer Society, bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States, with over 80,000 new cases diagnosed annually. If you’ve been diagnosed with this disease, your treatment team will recommend a care plan based on the characteristics of your diagnosis, your overall health, and the possible risks and side effects of the treatment. Common treatments for bladder cancer include:

  • Surgery – physical removal of the tumor and the surrounding healthy tissues
  • Chemotherapy – use of drugs to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy – use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy – works by improving the body’s natural defenses to effectively attack cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy – works by targeting cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to the growth and spread of cancer using drugs

In most cases, the best option could include more than one type of treatment. For example, an early-stage bladder tumor can be removed through surgery. However, since new cancers may form in other parts of the bladder over time, other treatments may be used in addition to surgical removal.


Common treatment side effects

As you prepare to start your treatment, it is normal that you fear treatment-related side effects. These side effects, for many reasons, may vary across different persons even if they have received the same treatment for the same type of cancer.

Listed below are the side effects experienced from the two common bladder cancer treatments.

  • From removal of the bladder through surgery
      • Sexual dysfunction or inability of the penis to become erect and loss of sexual feeling
      • Urinary incontinence
      • Temporary blood in the urine
      • Slow return to bowel function
      • Change in the acid-base balance in the body
  • From chemotherapy
    • Fatigue
    • Low blood counts
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Peripheral neuropathy, including numbness, tingling sensation, and pain in the arms and legs
    • High-frequency hearing loss

Sometimes, these side effects can last until the treatment ends (called long-term side effects). In some cases, they may continue even months or years after the treatment, which is called late effects. It is therefore important for patients to know how they can manage or cope with these effects to be able to continue living a quality daily life.


How to manage bladder cancer treatment-related side effects

  • Drink more fluids

If you are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for your bladder cancer, you may experience dryness in the mouth. To relieve this, it’s important to keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least one and a half liters of water every day. If you’re having a hard time reaching this amount of water, make it a habit to bring a water bottle or container wherever you are so you’ll always have a drink ready whenever you feel thirsty. Other sources of fluids that you can take in addition to water include milk, vegetable, and fruit juices.

Aside from addressing mouth dryness, good hydration helps flush toxins out of the body and makes other treatment side effects like nausea, constipation, and fatigue less severe. As a result, you’ll lower your chances of missing or delaying cancer treatments.

  • Stick to a nutritious diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is inevitably a part of a cancer care plan. For bladder cancer patients, experts recommend eating heart-healthy foods like a variety of fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, nuts, legumes, and non-tropical oils. They also recommend eating high-fiber foods such as whole grains. If you need help with the meal plan, seek advice from a dietitian. 

In case you are having nausea during the course of the treatment, avoid fatty, fried, spicy, and very sweet foods. Bland foods like dry toast and crackers can be a better option. Also, drinking water or ginger ale may help.

  • Exercise regularly

While you might think that sitting back and relaxing at home will help your body get relief from fatigue, doing regular exercises is a better way to combat this common treatment side effect. Not doing any physical activity can actually make you feel even more tired.

To be able to have the right exercise plan, consult with your doctor to come up with a routine that best suits your current condition. Many cancer patients stick to light and moderate exercises, such as brisk walking around your neighborhood. If you include this in your activities, you may ask a friend or a relative to accompany you.

  • Get enough rest

Since your body is recovering from the treatment, rest is necessary. Rest, but not too much. Take short naps or rest breaks of 30 minutes or less during the day, instead of taking one long nap. Excessive rest lowers your energy level and makes it more difficult to sleep at night.

  • Do pelvic floor muscle strengthening and bladder training exercises

If you are experiencing urinary incontinence, doing pelvic floor muscle strengthening exercises (also known as Kegel exercises) under the supervision of a physical therapist can help. These exercises work by training muscles to tighten and relax until they get a better control of the bladder.

Another technique is training the bladder on how to control urination frequency. This can be done by assigning certain time intervals to empty your bladder.

If these techniques do not work, there are medicines that can aid the bladder muscles to control urine flow. These drugs affect the nerves or the muscles that control them.

  • Take necessary medications

If you are experiencing peripheral neuropathy, putting in patches or applying numbing creams (such as lidocaine patches and capsaicin cream) can help relieve the pain. Your treatment team may also need to delay your treatment, lower the doses of your drugs, or even stop using the drug that causes your peripheral neuropathy until your symptoms go away.

Mild painkillers like paracetamol also help in relieving other types of pain experienced during treatment, although in some cases, stronger drugs may be required. Some use steroids, nerve blocks, and bone-strengthening medicines (bisphosphonates), while others may opt for complementary therapies like acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and relaxation to alleviate the pain.

To know more about how to deal with treatment-related side effects for cancer, check out How to Manage Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects.

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