Bladder Cancer as a Chronic Condition

Many individuals believe that bladder cancer is a condition that is diagnosed, treated, and hopefully cured, without any further concerns. While the chance of an individual's bladder cancer being cured is generally high (depending on the stage and type of bladder cancer they have), even after a cure, there can still be lasting impacts from the condition.1 These impacts can lead to bladder cancer being a long-term or chronic condition, even after it has been successfully treated. Some of these after-effects may include physical, mental, or emotional issues that extend beyond an individual's cancer and its potential cure.2 Although many of these can be long-term, there are often ways to manage them. It's important to remember that if you, or a loved one, are struggling from long-term effects of bladder cancer and its treatment, you may be able to talk to your provider or healthcare team to find assistance in managing these issues. Additionally, despite a strong cure rate, some types and stages of bladder cancer may require long-term treatment, that continuously causes side-effects or frustrations to manage.

Whether you're undergoing treatment for a long time, or you've previously had treatment, it's important to note that not everyone will experience the same side-effects, if any at all. The following are examples of common long-term effects that may be possible for individuals currently battling, or who have previously battled, bladder cancer.

Symptoms and side-effects

For individuals currently undergoing long-term treatment for bladder cancer, the side-effects and additional symptoms that often need to be coped with are those directly related to treatment. This can include pain or discomfort from surgery, and urinary or bowel difficulties (including bleeding or burning sensation when urinating, or bowel or urinary incontinence). Additionally, chemotherapy and radiation can cause hair loss, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, and appetite changes, while BCG may cause flu-like symptoms, urinary tract infections, or other urinary issues. Many of these are related to the current treatment used, and your provider or healthcare team may be able to help you manage them. Oftentimes, many of these subside or decrease in severity over time after treatment has stopped. However, for individuals who need ongoing therapy, these issues may be around much longer, and require regular maintenance or lifestyle changes.3,4

Long-term physical effects

Even after an individual has successfully been treated for their bladder cancer, there are still potential long-term effects that may need to be managed. Some of these include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Chronic pain
  • Long term bladder or bowel issues
  • Lymphedema (fluid retention and swelling in the body due to lymph nodes that were removed)
  • Osteoporosis (the thinning of the bones)
  • Feelings of numbness or tingling (called neuropathy)
  • Infertility
  • Cardiovascular or heart problems 3,4

It's important to remember that not all of these symptoms will impact everyone after treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these, your healthcare provider or team may be able to recommend options for you to manage, or treat, some of these long-term issues.

Long-term mental or emotional effects

The long-term effects of bladder cancer can also extend beyond the physical realm. Chronic side-effects may also include those that affect an individual mentally or emotionally. For example, worrying about bladder cancer prognosis during treatment may lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. These experiences can then, in turn, affect an individual's physical experience. Prolonged mental stress, anxiety, or depression can lead to exhaustion and fatigue, and may even impact sexual functioning. These feelings may be prolonged, or even worsen, as treatment goes on, which can be especially impactful for those undergoing long-term treatment. Even after successful treatment, fears or anxiety about cancer recurrence or the development of a second cancer may run rampant, and can impact an individual's mental or emotional state well beyond treatment.5,6

Although it may be treatable in many instances, bladder cancer, even when cured, may bring about many changes or long-term side-effects to an individual that can last well beyond the treatment period. If you or a loved one are struggling with a physical, mental, or emotional issue as a result of your bladder cancer or its treatment, consider talking with your provider about potential options for managing or overcoming these long-term impacts.

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