Conservative management for men with urinary incontinence after prostate surgery

Background information

The prostate is a male sex gland that surrounds the outlet of the bladder. Two main diseases of the prostate (cancer of the prostate, and benign (non-cancerous) prostatic enlargement) can be treated by surgery but some men suffer leakage of urine (urinary incontinence) afterwards. Conservative treatments of the leakage such as pelvic floor muscle training with or without biofeedback or anal electrical stimulation are thought to help men control this leakage.

The main findings of the review

The review of trials found that there was conflicting evidence about the benefit of therapists teaching men to contract their pelvic floor muscles for either prevention or treatment of urine leakage after radical prostate surgery for cancer. However, information from one large trial suggested that men do not benefit from seeing a therapist to receive pelvic floor muscle training after transurethral resection (TURP) for benign prostatic enlargement. Overall, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a beneficial effect from pelvic floor muscle training.

Of three external compression devices tested, one penile clamp seemed to be better than the others.

Adverse effects

This one penile clamp needed to be used cautiously because of safety risks.

Any limitations of the review

In future updates it may be worth considering two separate reviews, looking separately at 'treatment' and 'prevention' trials. More research that is of better quality is also needed to assess conservative management.

Authors' conclusions: 

The value of the various approaches to conservative management of postprostatectomy incontinence after radical prostatectomy remains uncertain. The evidence is conflicting and therefore rigorous, adequately powered randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which abide by the principles and recommendations of the CONSORT statement are still needed to obtain a definitive answer. The trials should be robustly designed to answer specific well constructed research questions and include outcomes which are important from the patient's perspective in decision making and are also relevant to the healthcare professionals. Long-term incontinence may be managed by an external penile clamp, but there are safety problems.

Read the full abstract...

Urinary incontinence is common after radical prostatectomy and can also occur in some circumstances after transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). Conservative management includes pelvic floor muscle training with or without biofeedback, electrical stimulation, extra-corporeal magnetic innervation (ExMI), compression devices (penile clamps), lifestyle changes, or a combination of methods.


To determine the effectiveness of conservative management for urinary incontinence up to 12 months after transurethral, suprapubic, laparoscopic, radical retropubic or perineal prostatectomy, including any single conservative therapy or any combination of conservative therapies.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group Specialised Register (5 February 2014), CENTRAL (2014, Issue 1), EMBASE (January 2010 to Week 3 2014), CINAHL (January 1982 to 18 January 2014), and World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (both searched 29 January 2014), and the reference lists of relevant articles.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials evaluating conservative interventions for urinary continence in men after prostatectomy.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two or more review authors assessed the methodological quality of the trials and abstracted data. We tried to contact several authors of included studies to obtain extra information.

Main results: 

Fifty trials met the inclusion criteria, 45 in men after radical prostatectomy, four trials after TURP and one trial after either operation. The trials included 4717 men of whom 2736 had an active conservative intervention. There was considerable variation in the interventions, populations and outcome measures. Data were not available for many of the pre-stated outcomes. Men's symptoms improved over time irrespective of management.

There was no evidence from eight trials that pelvic floor muscle training with or without biofeedback was better than control for men who had urinary incontinence up to 12 months after radical prostatectomy; the quality of the evidence was judged to be moderate (for example 57% with urinary incontinence in the intervention group versus 62% in the control group, risk ratio (RR) for incontinence after 12 months 0.85, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.60 to 1.22). One large multi-centre trial of one-to-one therapy showed no difference in any urinary or quality of life outcome measures and had narrow CIs. It seems unlikely that men benefit from one-to-one PFMT therapy after TURP. Individual small trials provided data to suggest that electrical stimulation, external magnetic innervation, or combinations of treatments might be beneficial but the evidence was limited. 

Amongst trials of conservative treatment for all men after radical prostatectomy, aimed at both treatment and prevention, there was moderate evidence of an overall benefit from pelvic floor muscle training versus control management in terms of reduction of urinary incontinence (for example 10% with urinary incontinence after one year in the intervention groups versus 32% in the control groups, RR for urinary incontinence 0.32, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.51). However, this finding was not supported by other data from pad tests. The findings should be treated with caution because the risk of bias assessment showed methodological limitations. 

Men in one trial were more satisfied with one type of external compression device, which had the lowest urine loss, compared to two others or no treatment. The effect of other conservative interventions such as lifestyle changes remained undetermined as no trials involving these interventions were identified.