Bladder Removal Surgery (Cystectomy)

A cystectomy is a surgery to remove all or part of the bladder:

  • A radical cystectomy removes the entire bladder, nearby lymph nodes, part of the urethra and nearby organs that may contain cancer cells.
  • A partial cystectomy removes part of the bladder.

Reasons for a cystectomy include:

  • Cancer of the bladder
  • Problems with nerve-muscle control of the bladder
  • Bladder damage from radiation or chemotherapy
  • Bladder damage or bleeding from other conditions, treatments or injuries

The Cystectomy Procedure

Before a cystectomy you should quit smoking and talk to your doctor about your medications. You may need to take antibiotics to prevent infection and laxatives to clean out the bowels. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight or on the morning of the procedure. This includes avoiding clear liquids, coffee, tea and water.

What to Expect

General anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. Your doctor makes an incision in the abdomen to expose the bladder. In a radical cystectomy, all blood vessels to the bladder are cut. Your doctor removed the bladder along with nearby lymph nodes, part of the urethra and nearby organs that may contain cancer cells. In men, your doctor removes the prostate and glands that help produce semen. In women, your doctor removes the uterus, ovaries and occasionally part of the vagina.

Your doctor creates a new way for you to pass urine out of the body. A new bladder may be built using pieces of intestine, or an external bag may be attached to the abdomen.

In a partial cystectomy, your doctor will only remove part of the bladder.

A cystectomy:

  • Lasts about 3-6 hours
  • Results in painful recovery
  • Requires a hospital stay of 5-12 days

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

  • You may need to stay in the intensive care unit.
  • During surgery, you'll receive a tube that runs from your nose to your stomach. It will stay there for several days. Because you cannot eat with the tube in place, you will receive IV fluids.
  • If a urine bag was attached during the surgery, you will be taught how to dispose of urine.

At Home

When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • You should avoid difficult physical activity for 4-6 weeks.
  • Avoid heavy lifting, straining and sexual activity until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor about any restrictions, including driving and climbing stairs
  • Ask your doctor about when it's safe to shower, bathe or soak in water.

Cystectomy Complications

Your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity
  • Damage to other organs
  • Blockage of urine flow from the ureters to the bladder
  • Nutrition problems, depending on the bowel segments used to create a way for urine to drain
  • Blood clots
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Urinary incontinence

Previous surgery in the abdomen or pelvis or radiation to the area increases your risk of complications.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.