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Pathophysiology and Contributing Factors in Postprostatectomy Incontinence: A Review

Take home message

When performing radical prostatectomy age, high International Prostate Symptom score, detrusor overactivity, radiotherapy, and extensive fibrosis around the vesicourethral anastomosis negatively influence postoperative incontinence. Bladder neck sparing and anterior fixation of the bladder-urethra anastomosis are associated with better continence rates.

Publication: European Urology 2016 Oct 06

PII: S0302-2838(16)30666-2

DOI: 10.1016/j.eururo.2016.09.031


The incidence and awareness of postprostatectomy incontinence (PPI) has increased during the past few years, probably because of an increase in prostate cancer surgery. Many theories have been postulated to explain the pathophysiology of PPI.


The current review scrutinizes various pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying the occurrence of PPI.

Evidence acquisition

A search was conducted on PubMed and EMBASE for publications on PPI. The primary search returned 2518 publications. Animal and basic research studies, letters, publications on prostatectomy for benign reasons, pathology of prostatic carcinoma, radiotherapy and hormone therapy of prostatic carcinoma, and review articles were all used as criteria for exclusion from the study. A total of 128 publications were selected for final analysis.

Evidence synthesis

Neuromuscular anatomic elements and pelvic support are known to influence PPI as evidenced by multiple publications. A number of non-anatomic and surgical elements have been postulated as contributing factors to PPI. Biological factors and preoperative parameters include: functional bladder changes, age, body mass index (BMI), pre-existing lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), prostate size, and oncologic factors. Multiple studies reported the impact of specific anatomic/surgical factors, including fibrosis, shorter membranous urethral length (MUL), anastomotic stricture, damage to the neurovascular bundle, and extensive dissection, all of which have a negative impact on the continence status of patients following radical prostatectomy (RP). Investigation of the impact of techniques to spare the bladder neck and additional procedures to reconstruct the posterior or anterior support structures (eg, the Rocco stitch) on continence status is ongoing.


Anatomic support and pelvic innervation appear to be important factors in the etiology of PPI. Biological/preoperative factors including greater age at time of surgery, pre-existing LUTS, high BMI, shorter MUL, and functional bladder changes have a negative impact on continence after RP. Extensive dissection during surgery, damage to the neurovascular bundle, and postoperative fibrosis also have a substantial negative impact on the continence status of men undergoing RP. Sparing of the bladder neck and anterior fixation of the bladder-urethra anastomosis are associated with better continence rates. There is still debate about whether posterior pelvic reconstruction leads to better postoperative continence rates.

Patient summary

Radical prostatectomy is an oncologic procedure and thus requires removal of the entire prostate gland and seminal vesicles, ideally with negative surgical margins. This sometimes results in urinary incontinence. The factors contributing to urinary incontinence are explained in this article.