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Understanding Prostate Cancer

What You Need to Know About Prostate Cancer Treatment: Urinary Dysfunction

(Read time3 minutes) 

This article is not intended to replace professional medical care or advice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please talk with your doctor. 

When facing prostate cancer, every man reacts to treatment differently. Some patients can quickly regain health and strength after treatment. Others endure more lasting side effects which can hinder their quality of life. 

Urinary dysfunction—along with bowel dysfunction and erectile dysfunction—is one of the most common side effects of prostate cancer treatment. And for many men, it can be difficult to talk about and manage. 

But the situation is not hopeless. If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer or know someone who has, it’s important to take action. That starts by understanding what treatments may lead to urinary dysfunction and how the prostate and bladder are anatomically connected.  

How are the prostate and bladder connected? 

The prostate gland is surrounded by extremely vital and sensitive organs: It sits below the bladder, in front of the rectum, around the urethra, and within the reproductive system.  

The bladder itself is a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine after it is emptied from the kidneys. As the urethra carries urine out of the body, it starts at the bladder and runs through the prostate. 

Urinary function is normally controlled by several sets of muscles: the muscles in the urethra, the internal sphincter (located where the bladder and urethra join), and the external sphincter (located below the prostate). These muscles act together with pelvic floor muscles to control the flow of urine in the bladder. 

An enlarged prostate, however, can obstruct or place pressure on the urethra. And prostate cancer treatments may damage the surrounding nerves and muscles, affecting bladder function. 


How can prostate cancer treatment lead to urinary dysfunction? 

Urinary dysfunction resulting from prostate cancer treatment can vary from urinary incontinence and urgency, to passing urine too frequently, to difficulty emptying the bladder fully. 

These symptoms are categorized into a few main types of incontinence:  

  • stress urinary incontinence 
  • urge incontinence 
  • overflow incontinence
  • mixed incontinence 

When choosing between prostate cancer treatment options, it’s important to be aware of how each therapy could affect your bladder. Different prostate cancer treatments create different urinary side effects. 

Surgery can physically change your urinary system, which presents the possibility of damaging the nerves that help control bladder function.  

Radiation therapy can inflame the bladder and cause unpredictable urination. Radiation could also inflame the urethra. This may cause swelling that narrows the urethra, making it harder to urinate comfortably. 

While symptoms like urinary incontinence may improve over the weeks or months following treatment, in some men they can be long-term problems. 

It’s important to consider how urinary dysfunction may affect your life. Some men fear that a public leakage can stop them from leading the lives they want and lead to a tremendous amount of anxiety.  

So, what is the best way to move forward with treatment? 

The right treatment for you 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for prostate cancer. Patients should weigh their own personal goals, quality of life, and life expectancy. 

The good news is that treatments for prostate cancer are constantly improving. Complications like urinary dysfunction are becoming more manageable and, in some cases, preventable. 

Emerging technologies for both pre-treatment and treatment options are becoming more common as quality-of-life concerns weigh heavily in the decision-making process. One such example are hydrogel spacers that may help to reduce the potential side effects of localized prostate cancer radiation therapy. 

In fact, in a 2017 published, multicenter-randomized, controlled clinical trial of a novel hydrogel spacer during prostate cancer radiation, patients treated with the hydrogel spacer were 66% less likely to suffer from urinary incontinence compared to patients who did not receive it.  

If you’d like to learn more about SpaceOAR Hydrogel, please contact our patient education team:

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  1. Prostate Cancer Foundation. (2019). Is it the Prostate or Prostrate Gland? What Does it Do?.[online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2019). The Urinary Tract & How It Works.[online]Availableat: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
  3. Prostate Cancer Foundation. (2019). Urinary Dysfunction from Treatment | Prostate Cancer Foundation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
  4. (2019). Bladder problems after radiotherapy | Prostate cancer | Cancer Research UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].

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