“With time, the symptoms of the incontinence will ease off and subside,” says Dr. Bobby Shayegan, Head of Cancer Surgery at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, McMaster University.

The incontinence will vary in nature according to what treatment has been prescribed for the patient. For instance, a localized cancer growth on the prostate may be addressed by a radiation-based procedure, either with an external beam or with radioactive seed implants.  As a result, patients should expect frequent, sometimes inconvenient urges to urinate, with possible episodes of leakage after radiation treatment.

On the other hand, surgical removal of the prostate will result in “stress incontinence”. With stress incontinence, patients will experience some urine leakage after sudden body movements, including laughing, coughing, or sneezing, for example.

"With time, the symptoms of the incontinence will ease off and subside."

These complications arise as a result of a disruption in the operation of the bladder or the urinary sphincter. Radiation can decrease the capacity of the bladder and cause spasms that force urine out. Surgery may impact the function of the urinary sphincter that normally controls bladder function.

Urinary incontinence can be managed

In both cases, most patients can look forward to regaining urinary control within about one year, says Dr. Shayegan. During that time, solutions are available to permit day-to-day activities without fear of leakage. For instance, urinary incontinence can usually be managed by urinary pads or other types of undergarments, says the doctor.

But some patients may need more. Those in the advanced stages of prostate cancer might have much more demanding issues with incontinence. For instance, their cancer growth might cause some bladder obstruction, leading to urinary overflow, or overflow incontinence.

“These are relatively rare cases,” he said, noting that this kind of severe incontinence results from prostate cancer growth that has been left too long without being treated, or that resides in patients whose prostate cancer has progressed significantly.

In these cases, there could be little or no urinary control, necessitating other measures, such as collection devices. These include, for instance, condom catheters, for collecting urine which help patients retain a reasonable quality of life.