Bladder cancer

Surgery

Bladder cancer

Surgery

Surgery involves removing tissues or organs from the body. The type of surgery you have depends on your cancer. You may also hear surgery called an operation or a procedure.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect.

Some bladder cancer surgery is complex and should be done at a specialist centre. 

See our Canrefer website for a list of specialist centres in NSW.

What you need to know

Bladder cancer surgery

The main purpose of surgery is to remove the cancer. The surgery that is performed will depend on:

  • where the cancer is
  • the size and type of cancer
  • whether the cancer has spread
  • whether you have other health problems.

Types of bladder cancer surgery include:

  • transurethral resection of bladder tumour (TURBT) – removing tumours from inside the bladder during a cystoscopy
  • partial cystectomy –  removing part of the bladder
  • radical cystectomy – removing the entire bladder
  • cystoprostatectomy – removing the bladder and the prostate (in men)
  • urinary diversion – diverting the flow of urine to bypass the bladder.

Urinary diversions

Most people have their cancer removed without removing the bladder itself, but a small number of people need to have the whole bladder removed (radical cystectomy).

If this happens, the surgeon has to make a way for urine to leave the body. This is known as urinary diversion. It can be done in several ways:

  • neobladder – the surgeon makes a new bladder from a part of the bowel
  • urostomy or ileal conduit – urine leaves the body through an opening in the abdomen called a stoma and is collected in a bag.
  • continent urinary diversion – urine is collected in a pouch inside the abdomen which is emptied regularly through a stoma using a tube, but no bag is needed.

If you need to have a stoma, there is help available. You will be seen by a stomal therapy nurse. There is also an Australian Council of Stoma Associations to assist with information and equipment.

The surgical team

Health professionals who work as part of the surgical team include:

  • surgeon
  • anaesthetist
  • nurse
  • allied health professional.

What to ask or talk about

Side effects of bladder surgery

Possible general surgical side effects and complications include:

  • pain
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • lymphoedema 
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • blood clots.

Possible side effects from bladder surgery include:

  • frequent need to pass urine
  • urinary incontinence
  • urine leaks
  • blockage to the flow of urine
  • difficulty getting an erection
  • reduced possibility of having an orgasm
  • psychological effects of having a stoma.

Your surgeon will discuss any risks of the surgery with you before your operation. Most hospitals will also give you written information about the surgery and who to contact if you have any concerns.

The surgical team looking after you during and after your operation will take care to reduce your risk of side effects, and treat any that you get.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect and see our checklist of questions to ask.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Preparing for surgery

Before surgery, you will need to sign a consent form. It is important you understand what you are consenting to and the possible risks of the surgery.

Some things you should know are:

  • whether you need to have tests and a preoperative assessment
  • whether you need to change or stop any medications, e.g. blood thinners like aspirin
  • when you have to stop eating and drinking
  • when you have to be there
  • whether you need time off work
  • whether you need someone to care for you at home after surgery (if you are having day surgery you will need someone to drive you home).
If you smoke, you should stop before any operation as your risk of complications from surgery is higher.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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