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Bladder Cancer

Frequently Asked Questions

 Am I a good candidate for radical cystectomy surgery? If so, why or why not?

It is difficult to define exactly which 30% of patients will have a complication, which is seen with this operation, whether it is performed in Denver, New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. It has been well documented that in facilities where more of these surgeries are done, there are fewer complications (1). At the University of Colorado, we perform this operation around 100 times per year. Patients who tend to do better are those who are relatively fit, and who are doing their usual daily activities.
Patients with extended friends or family support tend to be able to tolerate the whole situation better, and those who can keep a positive attitude seem to recover slightly better as well. We have found that patients who are too thin or too heavy have more problems with this operation (2). Patients who are very thin may have an advanced stage of cancer. Patients who are heavy or who have had radiation to the abdominal or pelvic area are more prone to infection, difficulty with a stoma, and difficulty attaching a neo-bladder to the urethra. Patients who drink or smoke heavily may have difficulty with wound healing or lung problems during recovery.

 How do you think I will respond to the radical cystectomy surgery?

Different individuals respond to the operation differently. However, we have found these generalizations to be true. The more educated one is about why one is having this operation and what the possibilities are in recovery, the better he/she does. In general, patients feel weak and tired and have intermittent nausea and abdominal pain for several weeks to months after the operation. There are some days that are pretty good and some that are pretty rotten, but in general after around 3 months, patients feel almost as good as they did pre-operatively. Over the ensuing 6-9 months they tend to get back to baseline or feel even better than they did pre-operatively.

 Describe in detail how the bladder removal will be accomplished?

With each bladder removal, the lymph nodes should be removed as well. We generally start with this part so that for the bladder removal portion of the case all of the nerves in the pelvis are well visualized and so that the margins of the bladder can be seen as well. After the bladder and lymph nodes are removed, an ileal conduit (where patient is left with a “bag” externally), a neo-bladder (“normal” plumbing), or a continent cutaneous diversion (no bag, but catheter (or soft hollow tube) is used to expel urine) is created. There are three choices of diversions used for urinary storage after cystectomy. There is a very, very small chance that when the abdomen is opened extensive cancer will be found and the abdomen will then immediately be closed .

 Who is a candidate for a Neobladder?

​Neobladders can be created as long as your kidney function is normal, and as long as you do not have cancer in the urethra (tube that expels urine naturally). Neobladders are also not recommended if you are over 75 years of age, have had abdominal/pelvic radiation, have had a lot of bowel surgery, or do not wish to experience any urinary leakage (particularly at night). It is important to tell your surgeon what back-up option for diversion you would prefer in case something is encountered at surgery that would prevent you from having a neobladder.4

 How exactly will a neobladder work during the early post-operative stage and final recovery stage?

​The neo-bladder is drained with two (or three) catheters after surgery, one through the urethra and the other going into the bladder through the skin (or three of varying sizes through the urethra). The first will stay in for approximately 3 weeks after surgery while the latter for 6-8 weeks (or all will stay in for approximately 3 weeks). It will take some time to train your new bladder for the first 6 weeks after the second catheter is removed, but ultimately works quite well during the day, but can leak when it gets full when one is asleep.

For 1 week before planned bladder removal, you will be asked to clamp your tube once you wake up and during the day, void every 3-4 hours. At night you can leave the catheter to drainage. During the daytime, when the catheter is clamped, you need to measure your “post void residual” which means that you will void and then unclamp the tube and measure what comes out of the tube and then write this down for the doctor. You should do this measurement at least 2 times a day in this week. (If all of your tubes were removed at week 3, you will not have to do this step).

After all tubes are out, you should void every 3-4 hours by the clock during the day and we recommend cutting down on fluids after dinner to keep it relatively dry and setting an alarm once or twice at night to empty the neo-bladder before it gets so full it leaks. Depends or other urinary protective pads can be used as well and will be used during the period of training when the catheter is removed.

In general, neobladders work fairly similarly to the native bladder. Instead of feeling the urge to void, patients usually feel more of a stomach ache when the neobladder is full. Patients push down, as if to have a bowel movement to empty their bladder. Because the pressure in the neobladder is not as strong as the pressure in the native bladder, the stream can be weak, so most men sit to empty the neobladder. Neobladders stretch and could hold many quarts of urine if allowed to do so. In general, the volume of urine inside should be kept to under 12 ounces to keep from over-stretching the neobladder.

Patients may be incontinent during the day or night. During bladder removal we remove the internal sphincter at the bladder neck and leave behind the external sphincter which prevents the urine from leaking. In patients that leak, it is thought the main problem is that this external sphincter is weak. This muscle can be strengthened with exercises and this may improve the incontinence. Artificial sphincters are also available. Sometimes the leakage can mean that the bladder is not fully emptying. Approximately 10% of patients (and more women than men) need to catheterize to keep their bladder emptying completely.


 Any bowel issues/risks following surgery and following full recovery?

​The risks of using bowel are three. Two are risks in the immediate post-operative period, the other is a long-term concern.

Post-operatively, whenever bowel is removed (as it is here to create the diversion), there is always a chance the bowel contents can leak through the connection where the two pieces that need to remain in continuity were brought together. There is also the chance that this same area can be swollen after surgery, causing nausea and vomiting (and/or need for a nasogastric tube – a suction device to remove stomach contents through a small tube placed in the nose). Rarely this area gets so swollen or scarred a repeat operation is needed to remove the scar tissue and keep the bowel contents moving through the GI system.

In the long term, since a portion of the bowel has been taken out of the GI system, there is a chance a patient may have more frequent bowel movements (usually one additional per day), or vitamin B12 deficiencies. Since B12 is absorbed from the segment of bowel that is removed, it is recommended you get your B12 level tested at least every year for the rest of your life after surgery and supplement if the level is low.


 ​​Describe the typical hospital recovery for a patient following this type surgery? Describe the daily physical progress, expected behavior, pain management, risks?

The hospital stay is approximately 7-10 days if there are no complications. There are up and down days during recovery. Patients sometimes have tubes in their nose (nasogastric) upon awaking from surgery, several catheters and drain. Patients are also on oxygen. Some or all of these are removed during the hospitalization depending on what diversion you have.

We ask patients to get up and walk the day after surgery as this actually helps the bowel function progress, which is the hardest part after surgery. Patients are generally not allowed to eat until they start passing gas after surgery which tells us that things are moving through the GI system and not just getting backed up, causing nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Patients cannot walk too much after surgery, and believe it or not, even though it isn’t particularly comfortable the first or second time, it will make you feel better in the long run!

You will also have leg squeezers on after surgery to help prevent blood clots and you will likely get shots for a while to keep your blood from getting too thick after surgery and get blood clots in your legs that can go to your lungs (pulmonary embolus).

Pain control post-operatively is attained using a “PCA” (patient controlled analgesia) or epidural. The PCA entails touching a button for a shot of morphine (in most cases). One should use this as needed for pain, but should not use it if he/she isn’t having pain as it will slow the bowels further, can cause constipation and confusion, and can actually slow recovery.


 Describe in detail the typical lifestyle changes, i.e., sexual, psychological, adjustment attitude?

Most people feel like getting through this surgery is one of the hardest things they have ever done. That said, when one is completely healed, there isn’t much one can’t do with a neo-bladder, continent cutaneous diversion, or ileal conduit. Most patient have a new perspective about what is important in life, and most who have smoked quit as this increases the risk the bladder cancer will return. Some men who were potent pre-operatively will retain their potency even if a “nerve-sparing” procedure is performed. We try to do a “nerve-sparing” procedure in all potent men. It is important to mention this issue to the surgeon so she/he performs a “nerve-sparing” operation if possible. Levitra, Viagra, and Cialis can be used as well as injectable agents and a vacuum pump to stimulate erections if this is not possible spontaneously. An artificial device to create erections can also be implanted at a later date if all of the above techniques are unsuccessful. Ejaculation is dry after surgery (no fluid comes out of the penis with climax, although climax itself is still possible, even when erection is not).


 During recovery, what precautions should I adhere to?

​No driving while on pain medications, no lifting more than 10 pounds. If you go home with catheters, do not get catheter tube in position there is any possibility it could accidentally be pulled out. If catheter is not draining or bladder feels full, try flushing to withdraw mucous, as you were taught in the hospital. If this is unsuccessful try calling our nurses, Scott or Pat at 720-848-0195 (weekdays) or the Urology Resident on call at 720-848-0000.

Although it is not easy to consume large amounts of food, try to stay hydrated. Consume liquids frequently and make sure they have calories (protein shakes, ice cream shakes etc.). Consume food in small frequent (high-calorie) meals. Most patients loose about 10 pounds with the surgery due to waiting for the bowels to regain function. You do not want to loose more than that if possible. Some studies have found chewing gum while waiting for the bowels to start functioning again can be helpful. Please seek care at the closest Emergency room if one leg is more swollen, red, hot and/or painful than the other. This may represent a blood clot, which can happen after pelvic cancer surgery


 Will I be tested for cancer following surgery and in the future?

Yes. Frequency depends on the stage (how deep tumor goes and how far it spread). You may be followed by us, your referring urologist, or your oncologist if you need chemotherapy or a combination of these team members

 What is the probability of cancer reoccurrence?

​This depends on the cancer stage. Stage refers to how extensive the cancer is. If the cancer is confined to the bladder (stage T2N0) then the chance of recurrence is around 20-30%. For patients whose cancer has extended to the fat outside of the bladder (T3N0), the chance of recurrence is around 50%. For those who extend deep into to the prostate, vagina (T4bN0-2), or pelvic lymph nodes (N+) the chance of recurrence is greater than 70%. Patients with pathology that is pT3 or greater will be recommended to have chemotherapy after surgery if they did not have it before. Most patients have “transitional cell carcinoma” type of bladder cancer. Those that have pure “adenocarcinoma” or “squamous cell carcinoma” bladder cancer seem to have a higher chance of recurrence11

 What are typically the most common problems experienced by family members during the patient recovery?

​It is hard for a family member to see someone they love go through so much suffering. However, if they know that their support truly does help recovery, hopefully they can stay involved and try to stay positive during the experience.

There are a few things to do in the first few weeks after surgery such as irrigating or removing mucous the neo-bladder or cutaneus continent diversion will now make. Our stomal therapist will stop by while you are in the hospital and make sure that you and your family members are aware of this process.


 Will I need a visiting nurse during my home recovery?

​Yes, and this will be organized during the hospitalization. Some patients even stay at a rehabilitation or step-down type facility for a few weeks after the procedure if they live alone, have a lot of other chronic conditions, or suffer complications during their surgery.13

 Will I be able to walk and climb stairs during home recovery?

​Yes, and it is encouraged. It helps pump blood through the veins in the legs, helping prevent clots there.14

 What questions or issues did we not discuss regarding surgery?

​You will be meeting a senior resident or assistant who works with us during the pre-operative visit, before and during surgery and during the hospital stay after surgery. This assistant helps me better visualize what needs to be removed at the time of surgery, but and is performing parts of the surgery under our direct supervision as this is a university teaching hospital and we train the next generation of urologists. You will also see our resident team twice per day during the weekdays as well as us. On weekends when we are on call you will likely see the residents but not us, although we are still making decisions in your care, through them. Our senior residents have completed medical school (M.D. degree) and have been in training with us for an additional 3-6 years. 15

 Is there anything else I should know?

​Support can be helpful from a patient who has been through this surgery. You may ask your physician for a name of someone who has been through this surgery whom you can contact. You can also go to for more information from patients16

1) Hollenbeck BK, Wei Y, and Birkmeyer JD. Volume, Process of Care, and Operative Mortality for Cytectomy for Bladder cancer. Urology 2007. May 69(5):871-5.
2) Petersen JFS and Wilson SS. Body Mass Index and Pathology, Complications, and Survival in Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer. Podium; South Central Section of the American Urological Association. San Diego, California 2008.
3) Wilson SS. Cystectomy: General Information and Nursing Secrets. Society of Nursing, Downtown Denver, CO, September 2008.
4) Stein JP, Lieskovsky G, Cote R, et al. Radical cystectomy in the treatment of invasive bladder cancer: long-term results in 1,054 patients. J Clin Oncology 2001. Feb 19(3):666-75.