What is Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancers that affects females, with more than 600,000 new cases diagnosed worldwide in 2020. Cervical cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the tissue of the cervix and is highly curable when diagnosed in its earliest stages. Because symptoms typically do not occur until more advanced stages, cervical cancer screenings are an important measure to take for prevention and early diagnosis.
Though cervical cancer is one of the most preventable gynecologic cancers with proper vaccination, screenings, and follow-ups, depending on the type and stage, some interventions such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy may be necessary for treatment.
Cervical Cancer Treatments & Incontinence
Advanced cervical cancer symptoms and the effects of cancer treatments may include changes to urinary habits and bladder control. Cervical cancer or treatments can damage the nerves and/or muscles that help control the bladder which can lead to short-term or long-term incontinence. Some treatments that can increase the risk of urinary incontinence include:
- Radiation therapy can cause damage to muscle fibers within pelvic floor muscles
- Chemotherapy medication can cause nerve damage, bladder irritation, or hormonal changes
- Treatments can cause early menopause and/or lower estrogen levels which causes pelvic floor muscles to weaken, leading to urinary tract problems
- Certain medications increase the amount of water in the body causing an increase in urination frequency and urgency
Changes to the bladder and continence are very common following cervical cancer. Research shows, about 20% of cervical cancer patients have long-term bladder problems, with the likelihood increasing if radiation treatment occurred. Pelvic radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells in the pelvic area but it may also damage the healthy cells and tissues in the pelvis, including the bladder.
If you find yourself struggling with incontinence following treatment, be sure to talk to your healthcare team to find a solution that works for you. Treatment depends on the type of incontinence you are experiencing, the cause of it, how severe it is, and how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms.
For more mild, less severe symptoms, there are some ways you can manage incontinence at home so you can stay dry and comfortable:
- Avoid foods and drinks that can irritate your bladder including alcohol, coffee, dairy products, soda, and sugar
- Wear a discreet, protective incontinence pad or briefs to manage leaks and accidents
- Use a waterproof, easy to clean, bedwetting mattress cover to protect and prolong the life of your mattress
- Consider investing in an incontinence mattress for a more long-term solution if you are experiencing recurrent nighttime accidents
Beating cervical cancer is something to celebrate but resulting bladder and incontinence issues can bring feelings of frustration or embarrassment for some. Remember you are not alone. Over 25 million adult Americans experience some form of temporary or chronic incontinence. Talk with your healthcare provider and reach out to a support group if you feel you are emotionally or mentally struggling with incontinence.