Coping with Symptoms and Side Effects

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: September 2017.

Patients with bladder cancer can experience a range of symptoms and side effects, some of which are due to the cancer itself.1-4 Others are due to the treatments for bladder cancer, such as surgery, medications, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Common side effects include:

What are the possible side effects of chemotherapy treatment?

Systemic chemotherapy includes powerful drugs that can be very effective against cancer cells, but they can also have an effect on healthy cells in the patient’s body.3 The types of side effects caused by chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy drug the patient is receiving, the dose, and how long the chemotherapy lasts. However, common side effects of chemotherapy include:

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  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Loss of hair
  • Fatigue
  • Bruising easily or bleeding more due to minor injuries
  • Increased risk of infections

Before starting treatment with chemotherapy, healthcare providers will talk with patients about the possible side effects they may experience, as well as strategies and treatments that can help manage and reduce those side effects.

Can bladder cancer cause sleep interference and fatigue?

It is not unusual for patients with bladder cancer to experience the symptoms of fatigue and sleep interference.2 Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness and very low energy that generally does not go away after sleeping or resting. Sleep interference includes problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking during the night several times and/or for long periods of time. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy, both common treatments for bladder cancer, can cause the symptoms of fatigue and sleep interference. These symptoms can have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life, and there are strategies that can be used to help address them.

What appetite changes can occur?

Many patients with bladder cancer experience changes in their appetites.4 This may include eating less than usual, feeling full after eating a small amount, and/or not feeling hungry at all. These symptoms can have many different causes related to the cancer or to treatments such as chemotherapy. It is important for patients to talk to their healthcare providers to develop strategies to help manage this symptom, because patients who are not eating well can become malnourished and lose weight, muscle mass, and strength.

Can bladder cancer impact sexual function?

It is not uncommon for bladder cancer and its treatments to cause sexual dysfunction in patients.1 The type of effects that a patient experiences depends in large part on the type of treatment for bladder cancer that the patient receives. Patients may experience a decrease in their levels of sexual desire, for both physical and/or emotional reasons. Men may experience issues with getting and maintaining an erection, for example, while women may experience issues with vaginal dryness, irritation or discomfort that can make having sex uncomfortable. However, there are many options for managing and reducing the sexual effects of bladder cancer and many patients are able to regain the ability to have and enjoy sexual activities again.