If an oncologist has advised you to have a course of radiotherapy to your bladder as part of your treatment for bladder cancer, this page gives you general information and answers some of the questions you may have about the side effects of radiotherapy.
We hope you will find this helpful. If you have any further questions relating to your treatment, please do not hesitate to ask your radiographer, nurse or oncologist.
Possible short term (acute) side effects
Acute side effects are temporary and affect most patients. The side effects generally develop during the second half of the course of treatment, last for several weeks after the treatment has finished and then usually settle within the next three to four months.
Effects on the skin
Towards the end of treatment some patients experience some changes in the skin affecting the area that has been treated. The skin may
- Feel tight and uncomfortable
- Become pink or red
- Become dry and flaky
Your skin will be monitored by your radiographers during radiotherapy and you will be given advice on how to care for it. Skin reactions may sometimes persist for up to six weeks after treatment has finished.
What can I do to help?
- Wear loose, preferably cotton, clothing that does not rub the skin and will allow air to circulate.
- Do not soak the area in the bath or under a long hot shower. You may wash the treated area using a simple, unperfumed soap applying gently with your hands rinsing the area well with warm water. Avoid using flannels or sponges. Pat the area dry with a soft towel or let the skin dry naturally.
- Do not use talcum powder, bubble baths, bath salts, shower gels or body lotions in the treated area as they tend to be highly perfumed and can dry or irritate the skin. You may be given a moisturising cream from the radiographers or nurses to soothe the skin, or your oncologist may prescribe a cream if needed.
Tiredness / Fatigue
Radiotherapy can sometimes make you feel very tired especially towards the end of your course of radiotherapy and for a number of weeks following treatment. You should rest as much as you need to. It may be some time before you feel able to do some of your usual activities.
Fatigue is something nearly everyone with cancer feels. It affects people differently and it is important to tell the health care team if you are feeling more tired than usual. There are some physical causes, such as anaemia that are readily treatable.
Please ask for a booklet on Fatigue at the Information Centre in NCCC which may give you tips to help with this.
Changes to your urinary system
During your course of radiotherapy you may experience changes to your urinary symptoms, especially in the last few weeks and on completion of the radiotherapy. If you already have some problems with passing urine, unfortunately these may become worse.
You may begin to experience some burning or stinging when you pass urine, sometimes called cystitis. You may feel the need to pass urine more frequently, especially at night. This could also coincide with a strong urgency to pass urine.
What can I do to help?
Whilst having radiotherapy:
- Drink at least eight cups of fluid a day. Don’t be tempted to drink less.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol or drinks containing caffeine – tea, coffee, coca-cola etc. They can all make any urinary problems worse.
Altered bowel habits
Changes in your bowel habits can occur during radiotherapy. If diarrhoea is a problem this is often very mild and changing to a low fibre diet can often help. A dietary advice leaflet is available from your treatment radiographers. Sometimes you may feel that you want to open your bowels frequently but only a small stool or no motion is passed. You may even pass mucus or a small amount of blood, this is called tenemus and you should talk to your specialist nurse or oncologist about this. Again, a low fibre diet can help and medication may be required.
Your bowel habits may continue to be disrupted for several weeks following radiotherapy but it should resolve. Please tell your oncologist or specialist nurse if it does not.
How else can I help myself during treatment?
You can help by doing these things…
- Don’t try to lose weight.
- Try not to smoke. It can make your side effects worse.
- Tell us if you are worried about your side effects, or if you feel unwell, or if you have any problems or questions.
You will be seen by a member of your specialist team once a week during your treatment. This will be an opportunity to discuss any concerns or problems you may have.
Please tell your treatment radiographers if you have any problems between appointments.
It is important to make time for yourself. Emotions associated with the reactions to a diagnosis of bladder cancer may come to the surface at various stages during your treatment. Don’t worry if you feel low, this can be normal. If you need to talk to someone, please ask, we are here to help. We have a wide range of support services within the department, such as Macmillan nurses, dietician and social worker.
A Clinical Psychology service is also available at NCCC on referral from your oncologist.
Sexual activity is personal to each individual and may be an aspect of your life about which you have concerns relating to your disease or treatment. You may have questions you wish to ask. Please talk to your oncologist, specialist nurse or radiographer if you would like to talk about these issues confidentially.
There is more information available in the Information Centre at NCCC.
It is very important that women are not and do not become pregnant whilst undergoing radiotherapy. Please inform a member of staff immediately if you think you may be pregnant. You will be asked (if appropriate) to confirm that you are not pregnant by one of the radiographers before starting treatment.
Possible long-term or permanent effects of treatment.
The likelihood of these effects is small and vary from person to person. Your oncologist will have discussed these effects at the time of your consent to treatment.
After your radiotherapy has finished
The side effects of treatment can continue for several weeks after radiotherapy has finished. Continue with your skincare routine until any changes return to normal. If you have altered you diet or decreased your caffeine intake then you will need to continue with this until your symptoms have improved.
You will be given a discharge letter with a copy for your GP summarising any side effects you may have and any creams or medication you have been prescribed at NCCC.
If you are worried about your side effects after your treatment has finished, please contact your specialist nurse or the NCCC Information Centre for further advice.
You will be sent a follow up appointment to see your specialist team six to 12 weeks after finishing treatment. Once you have finished your course of radiotherapy you will need to have a cystoscopy (a tube which looks into the bladder) under the care of your consultant urologist. This is usually performed approximately three months after completion of your radiotherapy.
This will enable the urologist to see if the radiotherapy has treated the bladder cancer effectively. You will need to have a cystoscopy
at regular intervals, usually every three to six months.
You will also be seen in the outpatient department by your oncologist to see how you are after your radiotherapy. This may be at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care or the original hospital where you first saw your oncology consultant.
At the clinic you will have the opportunity to ask any questions or discuss any concerns or worries you may have about your cancer
and the treatment you have received.
Uro Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Northern Centre for Cancer Care, Freeman Hospital, Tel: 0191 283 8337
Northern Centre for Cancer Care Macmillan Information and Support Centre, 0191 213 8611
Opening hours Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 4.30pm
Macmillan Cancer Relief, Head office 020 7840 7840, freephone 0808 800 1234, www.macmillan.org.uk