What you can expect
During cystectomy, your surgeon removes the bladder and part of the urethra, along with nearby lymph nodes. In men, removing the entire bladder (radical cystectomy) typically includes removal of the prostate and seminal vesicles. In women, radical cystectomy also involves removal of the uterus, ovaries and part of the vagina. Your surgeon also creates a new route for urine to leave your body.
Your surgeon may recommend one of these approaches for your surgery:
- Open surgery. This approach requires a single incision on your abdomen to access the pelvis and bladder.
- Minimally invasive surgery. Your surgeon makes several small incisions on your abdomen where special surgical tools are inserted to access the abdominal cavity.
- Robotic surgery. During this type of minimally invasive surgery, your surgeon sits at a console and remotely operates the surgical tools.
During the procedure
You're given a medicine (general anesthesia) that keeps you asleep during surgery. Once you're asleep, your surgeon cuts into your abdomen — one larger incision for open surgery or several smaller incisions for minimally invasive or robotic surgery.
Your surgeon next removes your bladder along with nearby lymph nodes. Your surgeon may also need to remove other organs near the bladder such as the urethra, prostate and seminal vesicles in men and the urethra, uterus, ovaries and part of the vagina in women.
After your bladder is removed, your surgeon works to reconstruct the urinary tract in order to allow urine to leave your body. Several options exist:
- Ileal conduit. During this procedure, your surgeon uses a piece of your small intestine to create a tube that attaches to the ureters and connects your kidneys to an opening in your abdominal wall (stoma). Urine flows from the opening continuously. A bag you wear on your abdomen sticks to your skin and collects urine until you drain it.
Neobladder reconstruction. During creation of a neobladder, your surgeon uses a slightly larger piece of your small intestine than the one used for an ileal conduit to create a sphere-shaped pouch that becomes your new bladder. Your surgeon places the neobladder in the same location inside your body as your original bladder and attaches the neobladder to the ureters so that urine can drain from your kidneys. The other end of the neobladder is attached to your urethra, allowing you to urinate in a relatively normal fashion.
A neobladder isn't a completely new, normal bladder. If you have this surgery, you might need to use a catheter to help better empty the neobladder. Also, some people experience urinary incontinence surgery.
Continent urinary reservoir. During this procedure, your surgeon uses a piece of your intestine to create a small reservoir inside your abdominal wall. As you make urine, the reservoir fills and you use a catheter to drain the reservoir several times a day.
With this type of urinary diversion, you avoid the need to wear a urine collection bag on the outside of your body. But you'll need to use a long, thin tube (catheter) several times a day to drain the internal reservoir. Leakage from the catheter site may cause some problems or the need to return to the operating room for revision surgery.
The goal of urinary diversion is to facilitate the safe storage and timely elimination of urine after your bladder has been removed, while preserving your quality of life.
Talk with your doctor to understand what's involved with each of these urinary diversion options so that you can choose the one that's best for you.
After the procedure
You may need to stay in the hospital for up to five or six days after surgery. This time is required so that your body can recover from the surgery. The intestines tend to be the last part to wake up after surgery, so you may need to be in the hospital until your intestines are ready once again to absorb fluids and nutrients.
After general anesthesia, you may experience side effects such as sort throat, shivering, sleepiness, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting. These may last for a few days but should get better.
Starting the morning after surgery, your health care team may have you get up and walk often. Walking promotes healing and the return of bowel function, improves your circulation, and helps prevent joint stiffness and blood clots.
You may have some pain or discomfort around your incision or incisions for a few weeks after surgery. As you recover, your pain should gradually get better. Before you leave the hospital, talk with your doctor about medicine and other ways to improve your comfort.
If you have urinary conduit surgery, you may have drainage of fluid from your urethra for six to eight weeks after surgery. Usually, the drainage slowly changes in color from bright red to pink, brown and then yellow.
With neobladder reconstruction, you may have bloody urine after surgery. In a few weeks, your urine should return to a yellowish color.
With either procedure, you can expect to see mucus in your urine, because the piece of intestine used in the procedure will still make mucus like your intestines normally do. Over time, you should have less mucus in your urine, but it will never go away completely. If you have a neobladder, you may need to flush your catheter if you have significant mucus to prevent plugging.
You may return to the clinic for follow-up care in the first few weeks after cystectomy and again after a few months. At these appointments, your doctor will check to make sure that your upper urinary tract drains adequately and that you're not experiencing electrolyte imbalances.
If cystectomy is performed to treat bladder cancer, your doctor will recommend regular follow-up visits to check for cancer recurrence.
Return to activities
During the first six to eight weeks after surgery, you may need to restrict activities such as lifting, driving, bathing, and going back to work or school. You'll gradually regain your strength, and your energy level should increase.
Ask your doctor when it's safe to resume sexual activities. You should wait about six weeks before sexual intercourse to allow proper healing to take place.