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Living with a new bladder

After you have surgery to remove your bladder, you need another way of collecting urine. There are different ways of doing this. The most common is to have a urostomy. This means having a bag outside your body to collect your urine.

Your surgeon can also make a new bladder. This is called bladder reconstruction or neobladder. Your doctor uses part of the bowel to create a sac like structure like your old bladder. It can hold urine and means that you should be able to pass urine as you did before. 

Getting used to the changes in passing urine

It takes time to learn to pass urine again and it will feel different to how it did before. You’ll pass urine by increasing your abdominal pressure. Your nurse will explain how to do that.

At the start, you'll empty your new bladder more often. It needs to learn to stretch and fill with different amounts of urine. It can take a while for your bladder to get to its full capacity.

It’s not uncommon in the beginning to leak urine from your new bladder (be incontinent), especially at night when you’re asleep. It can be difficult to learn to pass urine naturally, so you will have to regularly put a catheter into the new bladder to drain it.

It can take some time for you to come to terms with the changes in your body. But it helps to have supportive family and friends. If you find this difficult, you might need some help from other people.

Speak to your specialist nurse, doctor or GP about getting help through counselling. You can also talk to one of our cancer information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

Changes to your bowel movements

You may notice that your bowel movements change after surgery to remove your bladder. They may become looser. This can improve over time but sometimes it doesn’t. Your bowel movements change because the surgeon removes part of your bowel to create the new bladder. So your bowel is shorter than before.

You might need medicines to help control your bowel movements.

Your job

Having a new bladder shouldn't affect your job unless your work involves heavy lifting. However, you will need access to a toilet.

You might find that your new bladder leaks if you're lifting something really heavy. You find out by trial and error whether any activities cause problems with leaking.

Try emptying your new bladder more often. If it's leaking slightly when you're not doing anything too strenuous, pelvic floor exercises can help to stop this. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse, they can also help you find ways to stop any leaking.

Your relationships

You will probably worry about how your new bladder will affect your relationships, whether with a partner, friends or family.

You may not want to go out like before in case your new bladder leaks. Some people worry about having accidents. This can make you feel embarrassed and anxious. So you may not want to be far from your home or toilets. Also for a few months, your body will be recovering from having major surgery, so you may not have the energy like before.

You might find it helpful if you can talk openly to friends and family about your surgery. Most people understand and are very willing to help make things easier if they can.

It will take time for you and your body to get used to your new bladder. It’s a good idea at the beginning to empty your new bladder more often. Reducing the amount you drink in the evening can help reduce accidents overnight. 

Your sex life

After bladder surgery you might have some physical changes that can affect your sex life.

Sports and social life

Your new bladder shouldn't stop you enjoying your favourite pastimes.

You can exercise and swim.

There is no reason why you shouldn't drink alcohol. But bear in mind that the more liquid you drink, the more urine you will pass. So you might have to get up more frequently in the night.

To get a good night's sleep it can help to avoid drinking large amounts of any liquid later on in the evening. 

Radar key and just can't wait card

Many people worry about having access to a toilet when they’re out. There are special keys called radar key’s you can get that gives you access to thousands of toilets in the UK. It also tells you where they are.

Also, you can get a just can't wait card, this gives you peace of mind and access toilets in a rush. 

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
01 Jul 2019
  • Urostomy Association
    Accessed November, 2018

  • Radical Cystectomy With Bladder Replacement (In Men). Information about your procedure from The British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS)
    British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), 2017

  • Radical Cystectomy With Bladder Replacement (In Women). Information about your procedure from The British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS)
    British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), 2017

  • Diarrhoea and flatulence are major bowel disorders after radical cystectomy: Results from a cross-sectional study in bladder cancer patients
    Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations, 2018. Volume 36. Issue 5, Page 237

  • Cross-sectional evaluation of long-term bowel issues after radical cystectomy
    M C Hupe and others
    Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2017. Volume 35, Issue 6, Page 318

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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