Bladder Cancer

Supportive Care

Preventing, minimizing and managing the side effects of cancer or its treatment is a primary focus of your multidisciplinary health care team members. Discuss with them the potential physical and emotional side effects of each type of therapy. Ask about any that need immediate attention and find out what to do if they occur. Prompt or even preventive treatment may help avoid serious complications.

Though physical side effects will likely be top of mind, the cancer and its treatment may also affect you emotionally, spiritually and financially. That’s why your team will address and manage these challenges by drawing on a range of services known as supportive care.

Following are descriptions of some potentially severe and common side effects (see Table 1). Some side effects may be more intense when therapies are combined.

Potentially Severe Side Effects

Severe side effects are not common but can occur with certain types of cancer treatment. Ask your doctor if any therapies in your treatment plan could cause them, and find out how to identify the symptoms. Report them immediately if they occur.

  • Infection can occur as a result of a low white blood cell count (neutropenia) or other factors. Contact your doctor immediately – do not wait until the next day – if you have any of these symptoms: oral temperature over 100.4° F, chills or sweating; body aches, chills and fatigue with or without fever; coughing, shortness of breath or painful breathing; abdominal pain; sore throat; mouth sores; painful, swollen or reddened skin; pus or drainage from an open cut or sore; pain or burning during urination; pain or sores around the anus; or vaginal discharge or itching. If you cannot reach your doctor, go to the emergency room.
  • Immune-related adverse events (irAEs) may occur with certain immunotherapy drugs if the immune system becomes overstimulated by treatment and causes inflammation in one or more organs or systems in the body. Some irAEs can develop rapidly, becoming severe and even life-threatening without immediate medical attention.
  • Infusion-related reactions most frequently occur with treatment given intravenously (IV) through a vein in your arm, usually soon after exposure to the drug. Reactions are generally mild, such as itching, rash or fever. More serious symptoms, such as shaking, chills, low blood pressure, dizziness, breathing difficulties or irregular heartbeat, can be serious or even fatal without medical intervention.

Some Common Side Effects

Though most cancer treatments have physical side effects, you likely will not experience all of them (see Table 1). Keep in mind that bladder cancer can impact your sexual desire or sexual performance. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any sexual symptoms. If you feel uncomfortable talking about your sexual health, ask for a referral to an appropriate health care professional or support group.

Supportive care also addresses other challenges that may develop as a result of cancer or its treatment. Other forms of support include the following:

  • Dietary
  • Fertility
  • Financial
  • Spiritual or religious
  • Transportation

For additional help in an area not listed here, discuss it with a health care professional.

Table 1. Common Side Effects of Bladder Cancer Treatment

Side Effects Symptoms
Anemia Abnormally low red blood cell count
Bleeding Blood in the urine or stool
Blood Clots Leg discomfort
Bowel incontinence Stool leakage caused by the inability to control bowel movements
Chemo brain (cognitive dysfunction) Brain fog, confusion and/or memory problems
Constipation Brain fog, confusion and/or memory problems
Constipation Difficulty passing stools or less frequent bowel movements compared to your usual bowel habits
Decreased appetite Eating less than usual, feeling full after minimal eating, not feeling hungry
Diarrhea Frequent loose or watery bowel movements that are commonly an inconvenience but can become serious if left untreated
Erectile dysfunction An inability to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse
Eye and vision problems Blurred vision, dry eyes, eye pain, loss of vision
Fatigue Tiredness that is much stronger and harder to relieve than the fatigue an otherwise healthy person has
Hair loss (alopecia) Hair loss on the head, face and body
Infertility Inability to father a child or become pregnant
Lymphedema Fluid buildup from lymph node removal that causes swelling
Nausea and vomiting Stomach upset and/or throwing up
Neuropathy Numbness, pain, burning sensations and tingling, usually in the hands or feet at first
Neutropenia Low white blood cell count that increases the risk of infection
Pain Abdominal, muscular or bone discomfort
Respiratory problems Shortness of breath (dyspnea) with or without cough, upper respiratory infections
Sexuality issues Erectile dysfunction, reduced desire or feeling less desirable
Skin reactions Rash, redness and irritation or dry, flaky or peeling skin that may itch
Thrombocytopenia Low number of platelets in the blood, which can lead to bruising and bleeding
Urinary discomfort Pain or burning when urinating
Urinary incontinence Inability to control the flow of urine from the bladder
Urinary retention Inability to completely empty the bladder (bladder may feel full even after urinat-ing)
Weight loss Losing weight unintentionally