This page is part of the PanCare PLAIN summaries about late effects and recommendations for long-term follow-up care for survivors of childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer. Click here, for more information on the PLAIN summaries.

Lower urinary tract problems

The lower urinary tract is made up of the bladder, urinary sphincter and the urethra and located in the lower abdomen.

The bladder stores urine, which is made by the kidneys. When full, the brain receives a signal that the bladder needs to be emptied. This is what causes the feeling that you need to wee/pee.

The urinary sphincter, which is located below the bladder, is a muscle that prevents urine from leaking from the bladder. When the bladder is ready to be emptied, the urinary sphincter relaxes and pee exits the bladder via a tube called the urethra.

Together, the bladder, urinary sphincter and urethra make up the lower urinary tract.

Sometimes problems can occur with the lower urinary tract. Lower urinary tract problems include:

  • Hemorrhagic cystitis, where there is bleeding of the bladder.
  • Bladder fibrosis, where the lining of the bladder gets scarred and stiff.
  • Dysfunctional voiding, where the urinary sphincter does not relax while trying to pass urine. This makes it more difficult to empty the bladder.
  • Vesicoureteral reflux, where urine flows back from the bladder to the kidneys.
  • Nerve damage, which can cause urine to leak from the bladder.
  • Hydronephrosis, where the tube between the kidneys and bladder (ureter) becomes blocked, making it difficult for urine to flow from the kidneys to the bladder.

There are a number of things anyone can do that may lower the risk of urinary tract problems, such as keeping hydrated.

Am I at higher risk of lower urinary tract problems?

Anyone, including people who have never had cancer treatment, may develop lower urinary tract problems. However, there are some cancer treatments that may increase the risk of having lower urinary tract problems later in life.

The following treatments can increase the risk of lower urinary tract problems:

  • Chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide. Any dose of these chemotherapy drugs can cause urinary tract problems.
  • Radiotherapy to the bladder or an area that includes the bladder
  • Surgery that involves removal of the bladder (cystectomy)
  • Surgery that involves removal of the womb (hysterectomy)
  • Surgery to the pelvis
  • Surgery to the spinal cord

You can find out if you have received any of these treatments by looking at your treatment summary. If you do not have a treatment summary or if you have any questions, do contact your treating hospital.

If you experience lower urinary tract problems, it does not always mean that this is caused by your cancer treatment. Lower urinary tract problems may have other causes.

What are symptoms and signs of lower urinary tract problems?

There are symptoms and signs that can tell you if you might have lower urinary tract problems. You might not have these symptoms and signs at the moment, but it is important to be aware of them in case they may develop in the future.

These symptoms and signs may suggest that you have lower urinary tract problems:

  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Pain or a burning feeling while passing urine
  • Urine leaking from the bladder
  • Passing urine more frequently than usual
  • Blood in the urine

Very often these symptoms have another cause, such as urinary tract infections. If you recognise any of these symptoms or signs in yourself, please contact a general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.

I am at higher risk of lower urinary tract problems. What tests should I have and when?

If you are at higher risk of lower urinary tract problems, it is advised to:

  • Discuss your medical history and whether you experience(d) any symptoms and signs of lower urinary tract problems with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist at least every 5 years.

If you have had your bladder removed (cystectomy), or if part of your bowel was used to enlarge the bladder (enterocystoplasty), it is important for you to be followed up by a nephrologist (physician specialised in kidney diseases) or urologist (physician specialised in the urinary tract).

If you might have lower urinary tract problems, it may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis by doing a urine test.

What happens if I have lower urinary tract problems?

If you have lower urinary tract problems, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist will probably refer you to a:

  • Urologist (physician specialised in the urinary tract)

The urologist may discuss different treatment options with you.

What else can I do?

Knowing that you may be at increased risk of lower urinary tract problems can be difficult. Talking to friends and family can be helpful as well as specialist counselling and/or contact with support groups, such as patient organisations. For more information on taking care of your mental health, please read: Mental health problems.

To lower your risk of lower urinary tract problems, it is very important to live a healthy lifestyle. In particular, it is important to keep hydrated. This means increasing your fluid intake if it is hot or if you are physically active. Taking care of your mental health may be beneficial; even small changes to your lifestyle can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. For more information on taking up a healthier lifestyle, please read: Health promotion.

It is important that you are aware of the possibility of developing lower urinary tract problems and that you know the symptoms and signs. If you have any further questions or if the information in this brochure concerns you, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.

Where can I find more information?

You may find more information about lower urinary tract problems online. However, it is important to be aware that this information is not always up to date or accurate.

Some sources of further information are:

  • Together: Here you can find more information about bladder problems after childhood cancer treatment

On this website, you can also find more information related to this topic:

Please note

This PLAIN summary is based on the PanCareFollowUp guideline about “Lower urinary tract problems” [1], which is based on the consensus of different national guidelines.

While the PanCare PLAIN information group strives to provide accurate and complete information that is up-to-date as of the date of publication, you can check with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist if this summary reflects the most up-to-date information available and whether it is relevant for you.

Please do not rely solely on this information. It is best to also seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom.

No warranty or representation, expressed or implied, is made concerning the accuracy, reliability, completeness, relevance, or timeliness of this information. PanCare has produced the English version and PanCare is not responsible for the translated versions of this summary.

The PanCare materials are free to use for anyone aiming to inform about late effects and long-term survivorship care. However, no financial advantage may be achieved. All communication should reference PanCare and link to the PanCare website.

[1] van Kalsbeek, R. et al. (2021) European PANCAREFOLLOWUP recommendations for surveillance of late effects of childhood, adolescent, and Young Adult Cancer, European journal of cancer. Available at: https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(21)00368-3/fulltext