If you are preparing to undergo prostate cancer surgery, or if you have already had a radical prostatectomy to remove prostate cancer tissues, talk to your doctor about what will occur during your recovery. You can expect to wake up from the surgery to find a catheter in place. This is used to drain your bladder. It is important to follow all of your doctor’s instructions for catheter care so that you do not develop an infection.
Proper catheter care can also help you feel more comfortable. You may need a catheter for one or two weeks, depending on your specific situation. Your doctor will determine how long a catheter will be necessary for you. Always wait for your doctor to remove the catheter; never attempt to remove it by yourself.
Why do you need a catheter?
The catheter will drain your bladder continuously. It is used when you cannot urinate by yourself. It is also used when your urethra or bladder require healing time. It is quite common to use a catheter after a surgery for prostate cancer, because this surgery often results in urinary incontinence. Men may also need a catheter if they have an enlarged prostate that interferes with urination, if they have a narrowed urethra, or if they have had radiation therapy. Radiation therapy for prostate cancer can reduce the capacity of the bladder and cause spasms, both of which may cause urine leakage.
Cleaning the catheter
To help prevent infection, wash the catheter and your penis twice daily. It might be easiest if you do so in the shower (do not take baths with the catheter in place). Use warm water. Wash your hands before and after. To clean the catheter, hold the end of it to keep it from being pulled out and carefully wash the area where it enters your body. Wash the skin around the catheter, along with your genital area. Clean the area around your anus last, rinse, and pat dry with a clean towel. Always use a fresh, clean washcloth for each washing.
Emptying the leg bag
Your catheter will drain into a leg bag, which will need to be emptied regularly. Empty it at least every three to four hours, or sooner if needed. Wash your hands thoroughly, and then stand near the toilet. Loosen one of the straps that attaches the bag to your leg so that the bag hangs over the toilet. Take off the cap, open the clamp, and drain the urine out. Soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and use it to wipe the drain port. Close the clamp and replace the cap. Wash your hands thoroughly. Replace the old leg bag with a new one, and then follow the directions below for cleaning the old leg bag.
Cleaning the leg bag
Always clean the collection bag after each use. Mix 1 ¼ cups of white vinegar (never use cider vinegar) with 2 quarts of water. Thoroughly rinse the bag in this solution, and then hold it upside down to drain the excess water. Do not rinse the bag. Instead, hang it upside down and allow it to dry. Wash your hands thoroughly. If you do not need the bag right away once it is dry, store it in a clean plastic bag. If you need to use a catheter for longer than a month, obtain new collection bags after one month has passed and discard the old ones.
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.