Some of the most common side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation or surgery are well-known: hair loss, nausea, fatigue, appetite problems and many more. However, there are a number of conditions patients may face during and after treatment that aren’t often discussed, even though they can have a significant — and in some cases, lasting — effect on the patient’s quality of life. One such issue is complications with the pelvic floor muscles. If you’re wondering, “how does cancer treatment affect the pelvic floor?” the best place to start is first understanding what exactly the pelvic floor does — and how cancer treatment can potentially damage this function.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles located at the base of the pelvis, extending from your pubic bone to the tailbone. The muscles enable urinary and fecal continence, support sexual function, encase vital organs like the colon and bladder, and work with other muscles to keep the spine stable.
How does cancer treatment affect the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor can be damaged to varying degrees during gynecological cancer treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation, for instance, may lead to thickening pelvic tissue, which can lead to incontinence, sexual dysfunction and pain. Patients who undergo surgery for gynecological cancers may experience swelling and scar-tissue growth, which also can inhibit the pelvic floor from functioning as it should.
What are the options for patients?
The impact of cancer treatments on pelvic floor functionality varies widely, depending on the individual patient. Some may only experience symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction temporarily, as they undergo treatment or heal, while others may report long-term impacts. Pelvic floor physical therapy can involve a combination of stretches, exercises, relaxation techniques or trigger-point treatments, all tailored by a trained professional to the patient’s case and symptoms.
For those who have been searching for an answer to “how does cancer treatment affect the pelvic floor,” the first step to finding an answer is consulting with your oncologist. Be transparent about your symptoms and your concerns; the more information your physician has, the more prepared they will be to help you find a solution.
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