Some cancer treatments may cause urine, bladder, and kidney problems. Some urinary or bladder changes may be expected, such as changes to the color or smell of your urine caused by some types of chemotherapy. Your health care team will find out what is causing your symptoms and talk to you about steps you can take to feel better.
Sometimes chemotherapy drugs can cause problems in your bladder or kidneys.
Know the Types of Problems
Radiation therapy to the pelvis (including reproductive organs, the bladder, colon, and rectum) can irritate the bladder and urinary tract. In most cases, these problems often start several weeks after radiation therapy begins and go away several weeks after treatment has been completed.
Some types of chemotherapy can also lead to problems with the bladder and kidneys, such as infections and stones (hard masses of minerals that can build up in your bladder or kidneys). Chemotherapy may also cause your urine to change color or take on a strong odor.
Surgery done for different cancers also can lead to urinary problems later.
Bladder irritation causes discomfort due to inflammation—swelling, pain, tenderness, heat, or a functional problem or change—of the urinary bladder.
Signs of Bladder Irritation
- Leaking urine (incontinence).
- Pain or a burning feeling before or after you urinate.
- Blood in your urine.
- Trouble starting to urinate.
- Trouble emptying your bladder completely (also called urinary retention).
- Feeling that you need to urinate badly or often.
- Leaking a little urine when you sneeze or cough.
- Bladder spasms, cramps, or discomfort in the pelvic area.
Remember that many of these symptoms may also be a sign of bladder or kidney stones.
Know When to Talk to Your Health Care Team
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs and symptoms that worry you. Seek medical attention right away if you have:
- Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs.
- Pain that spreads to your lower belly or groin (the area between your belly and thigh on either side of your body).
- Pain with nausea and vomiting.
- Pain with fever and chills.
- Blood in your urine.
- Difficulty passing urine.
Urinary Tract Infection
In people being treated for cancer, a urinary tract infection can turn into a serious problem that needs immediate medical care, such as a kidney infection.
Signs of Urinary Tract Infections
- Pain or a burning feeling when you urinate.
- Urine that is cloudy or red.
Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about ways to lower your chances of getting a urinary tract infection. These may include:
- Going to the bathroom often.
- Wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants.
- Learning about safe and clean practices for catheterization (when a tube is inserted into your bladder to allow urine to drain freely).
- Taking showers instead of baths.
- Checking with your doctor or nurse before using products such as creams or lotions near your genital area.
Signs of Kidney Infections
- Fever and chills.
- Lower back or side pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Dealing with Urine, Bladder, and Kidney Problems
Your health care team wants to work with you to manage any urine, bladder, and kidney problems you have, so talk with them. There may be medicines or exercises to help with some of these problems. And the good news is, most bladder problems go away after treatment. Learn what you can do to manage your urine, bladder, and kidney problems.
Drink the Right Amount of Fluids
- Talk to your doctor about fluid management. If your kidneys are not working well, it could be a problem if you drink too much fluid.
- If you have an overactive bladder, avoid things that can make symptoms worse. These include caffeine, drinks with alcohol, spicy foods, and tobacco products.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Call your doctor if you:
- Urinate a lot.
- Feel pain or burning before or after you urinate.
- Often feel like you have to urinate badly, right away.
- Notice a red color or blood after you urinate. (Some chemotherapy drugs will change the color of your urine. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens.)
- Have a fever.
- Have chills.
Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:
- What symptoms or problems should I call you about?
- What steps can I take to feel better?
- How much should I drink each day? What liquids are best for me?
- Are there certain drinks or foods that I should avoid?
Listen to Tips on Managing Urine, Bladder, and Kidney Problems
For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.
Talk to Family and Friends
Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.
Find Peer Support
Talk About Your Concerns
Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.
Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online
The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.
NCI Cancer Information Service
Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.
The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.
ACS National Cancer Information Center
Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.
Learn More About Urine, Bladder, and Kidney Problems
The National Cancer Institute has additional resources to help you, including urinary and bladder problems.