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How Breast Cancer Can Impact Incontinence in Women

By Aleece Fosnight December 24, 2022 Health and Fitness

Most individuals associate cancer treatments with common symptoms of hair loss, fatigue and weight loss. However, many don’t realize the direct impact cancer treatments can have on our pelvic floor function and increase the likelihood of incontinence, specifically in women battling breast cancer.

Specifically, studies show patients with early stage breast cancer will most likely develop urinary incontinence after undergoing cancer treatments.

Why Cancer Treatment May Impact Bladder Health

The reason behind the onset of incontinence for breast cancer patients is mainly due to the decrease in hormones throughout the body. Cancer treatments such as radiation or systemic therapy cause a decrease in hormones that help reduce or stop the spread of cancer.

However, it also leads to early menopausal symptoms in women as the imbalance of hormones cause the lining of tissues in the body to thin, especially those around the bladder.

The thinning of bladder tissue and changes in the genital flora then creates more opportunity for bladder infections to occur and weakens the bladder’s ability to fight off those infections. What’s more, the drugs used in Chemotherapy are filtered through the kidneys which cause direct irritation to the bladder through urine.

All of these side effects from cancer treatment create an immediate increase in incontinence and an overall negative impact on bladder health.

Ways to Improve Incontinence with Breast Cancer

The Use of Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is rich in glycosaminoglycans, which can help soothe any pain in the bladder for patients with various conditions and acts as a bladder protector. Chemotherapy can cause inflammation along the urinary tract and taking aloe vera before, during and after therapy treatments can greatly reduce the risk of inflammation and overall bladder irritation.

Understand Bladder Irritants

As the bladder experiences changes from cancer therapy and becomes more sensitive, it’s important to avoid certain bladder irritants to not cause any more damage. Coffee and alcohol should be avoided, while foods that are high in acid or are spicy should be limited. Avoiding constipation and drinking plenty of water will also greatly improve your bladder function while undergoing cancer treatments.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Any kind of movement with the pelvic floor can greatly improve your bladder health both during and after breast cancer. The muscles around the bladder become weak, along with all muscles in the body, while going through chemotherapy which can greatly impact the overall strength of the bladder and thus, increases incontinence.

What’s more, the low hormone levels that women experience while going through breast cancer treatment can also cause pelvic floor dysfunction. Consulting with a pelvic floor therapist will help women strengthen their pelvic floor to avoid further complications that result from cancer treatment.

Many patients do not realize the impact that breast cancer treatment has on their overall bladder function, and most wait until cancer therapy has been completed to begin any care to treat their incontinence concerns.

Preventative care is crucial to overall bladder and pelvic floor care when going through breast cancer. To ensure the best outcomes around incontinence and bladder function, women should always consult with their healthcare providers or work directly with a urology specialist to properly manage their bladder health and understand what exercises, treatments and tools are appropriate for their situation.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Did you know breast cancer treatment can impact your bladder health? If you have gone through breast cancer treatment, what was your experience in relation to this condition and incontinence?

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I was recently dx w/early stage breast cancer and nothing in my literature mentions this…. eesshhh, another concern I need to be aware of.
Thanks for sharing.

The Author

Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, CSC-S, CSE, NCMP, IF is a Medical Advisor to Aeroflow Urology. She is a provider of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, basic urologic care, and gynecological care for Western North Carolina and the Southeast and has opened up her own private practice in June 2020, Fosnight Center for Sexual Health, in Asheville, NC.

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