Bladder cancer is often thought of as a disease that affects older men. It is true that bladder cancer is most common in men aged over 55 years, and that men are about 3 to 4 times more likely to get bladder cancer than women. In an online bladder health quiz conducted by Cxbladder in conjunction with International Women’s Day, fewer than half of the 606 respondents knew that bladder cancer is more common in men than women.
Women with bladder cancer, however, tend to experience delays in getting diagnosed, and subsequently are diagnosed with more advanced disease and women have worse outcomes compared with men. In the same online bladder health quiz, most respondents (80.2%) knew that many women experienced significant delays in being diagnosed with bladder cancer.
So why is there this gender difference? One of the reasons for this difference among male and female bladder cancer patients is because women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with a urinary tract infection, and are less likely to be referred to a urologist compared with male patients.
The most common symptom of bladder cancer for both sexes is blood in the urine or hematuria. About 4 in 5 people with bladder cancer will have hematuria. Many women associate blood in the urine with menstruation or menopause and delay seeing their doctor. Even when they report this symptom to their doctor, they may be misdiagnosed with a urinary tract infection or post-menopausal bleeding. 73.3% of quiz respondents could correctly identify these reasons that cause delays in women being diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Most bladder cancers are very treatable at an early stage. So, it’s important to know the symptoms of bladder cancer to avoid a delayed diagnosis. Symptoms of bladder cancer may include:
- blood in urine
- pain or burning when urinating
- frequent urination
- difficulty in urinating
- lower back pain
The symptoms of bladder cancer may also be the same as the symptoms of a urinary tract infection. If these symptoms do not go away after treatment with antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, insist upon further evaluation.
It can be scary to advocate for yourself when your doctor is telling you something different, but you know your body best. If there’s a little voice inside you that is saying ‘something isn’t right,’ listen to it. If you have been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and multiple treatments with antibiotics have not cleared the symptoms, it may be something else.
You have options. You can seek a second opinion from a different doctor. You can ask for a referral to a urologist to do further testing, at least to rule out that it is not bladder cancer. But don’t ignore the symptoms, and don’t ignore the gut feeling that something is wrong.