Home Treatments Lifestyle Symptoms Cancers

Inability to hold your water is a rare but distressing side effect of some cancer procedures. It can be broadly divided into two categories:

stress incontinence - referring to the complaint of urine leaking out when the individual coughs, sneezes, laughs etc. 

urgency - is the situation where there is a strong desire to pass urine immediately and the individual has very little notice before he/she losses control and becomes incontinent, i.e. there is an urgent need to find a loo! This symptom is commonly experienced:

 If there is a sudden onset of incontinence particularly if associated with a burning pain cystitis and bladder infection should be excluded or treated.  

What can I do to help?

If overweight try to slim down. Exercise in general has been shown to help, not only by helping to loose weight but toning the abdominal muscles. It is important to remember, however, that when exercising the abdominal muscles breathe out slowly when tensing the muscles this avoids increasing the pressure inside the abdomen (intra-abdominal pressure) which can actually aggravate the abdominal muscles. The most important and relevant exercise to improve incontinence are those which strengthen the pelvic floor pelvic floor exercises. These exercises can also improve the muscle tone around the anus helping piles bowel urgency or rectal prolapse. Some also advocate pelvic floor exercises to improve sexual performance. 

The level of pelvic floor exercise depends on the individual's fitness. A general rule is to attempt some form of exercise at least 1-2 every day and to keep it going regularly. Benefits usually only appear within 2-3 weeks and may take several months to peak.


Pelvic floor exercises - First of all you will need to find your pelvic floor muscles.  Imagine you are trying to stop passing wind and urine at the same time. Tighten the muscles around your back passage and your front passage and lift them up inside you. When you do this you are tightening your pelvic floor muscles. 

There are two main types of exercise:

Exercise 1 The slow technique - Tighten the pelvic floor and count to 5, then relax.   Repeat this at least 10 times.  Perform these exercises 5 times daily.   When you feel confident with this regime increase the tightening time for 10 counts and include exercise 2 as well.

Exercise 2 The quick technique - These exercises work the muscles quickly to help them react to sudden stresses like coughing, laughing or exercise.  Draw in the pelvic floor and hold it for just one count before letting go.  Repeat this up to 10 times.  You should aim to perform this regime of exercises 5 times daily. 

You can perform these exercises wherever you feel happy either lying down, standing up, in the supermarket or bus queue.  On a cautionary note, it is very easy to use other muscles as well, so be sure you are using only the right ones, if in doubt it may be worth a referral to a physiotherapist or personal trainer at this stage:

        Do not pull in your stomach

        Do not squeeze your legs together

        Do not tighten your buttocks

        Do not hold your breath


Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

Home | Cancer management | Cancer treatments - Chemotherapy Radiotherapy  Hormones  Biologicals | Complementary | Lifestyle - Exercise  Diet  Smoking  Sun | Tests for cancer | Books | Videos | Travel | Insurance | Symptoms | Side effects | Clinical trials | Glossary | Support groups & links | About cancer | About us | Disclaimer