If you’ve been vigilant about getting regular gynecological care, bladder cancer may not be on your radar. After all, it is much more common among men than women, and most cases affect patients over the age of 65. However, these statistics should not prevent you from spotting the warning signs.
Although bladder cancer is not one of the most common cancers in women, approximately 18,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year (Source: CDC – Bladder Cancer). The Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network reports that women are more likely to develop bladder cancer because they may be missing early symptoms.
Facts about bladder cancer in women
Bladder cancer is not commonly associated with women, but it is important to understand the unique ways in which bladder cancer affects women and why it is important not to ignore bladder cancer.
About 50% of cases are diagnosed when the cancer is in the bladder. However, this percentage is lower in women because the symptoms go unnoticed.
Women have a 1 in 89 chance of developing bladder cancer in their lifetime (Source: American Cancer Society – Key Bladder Cancer Statistics). However, bladder cancer is on the rise in women.
About 90 percent of bladder cancer cases occur in people over the age of 55, so it’s important to be on the lookout for early signs of bladder cancer as you get older.
Bladder cancer has a high recurrence rate. If you’ve been diagnosed with bladder cancer, it’s important to have regular checkups to rule out recurrence.
Early symptoms of bladder cancer in women
Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you get an early diagnosis, which can improve your prognosis. Here are five caveats to keep in mind:
Blood in the urine (hematuria). It is the most common early symptom of bladder cancer and is often the first symptom of bladder cancer. It is usually painless and lasts for weeks or even months, so it is easy for women to ignore it. Many women ignore this symptom because they think it is related to menstruation or menopause. If you are unsure if there is a problem, it is best to consult a urologist
Symptoms similar to urinary tract infection. Bladder cancer can be mistaken for a urinary tract infection (UTI) because of many overlapping symptoms. Patients may experience increased urinary frequency, urgency, pain during urination, and urinary incontinence. If you notice any urinary problems – you need to go often, or feel like you should, but can’t, or if you have trouble emptying your bladder, or if antibiotics don’t seem to be helping. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection.
Unexplained pain. More advanced bladder cancer is often associated with pain. Pain can occur in the flanks, abdomen, and pelvis. Patients may experience pain in their bones if the cancer has spread to their bones. Tell your doctor if you experience pain or discomfort in these areas, especially if you notice spotting or signs of a urinary tract infection.
Loss of appetite. Loss of appetite is a common symptom of cancer, and bladder cancer is no exception. If the cancer has grown or spread, you may experience weight loss or fatigue and weakness. Of course, there are many other things that could be affecting your appetite, so don’t assume the worst, but if it persists, talk to your doctor.
Postmenopausal uterine bleeding. Any blood or spotting seen after menopause can be a sign of bladder cancer or other underlying disease. As with blood in the urine, it can be easy to overlook, but to be on the safe side, I recommend seeing a urologist.
Risk factors for bladder cancer
Currently, smoking is the single most important risk factor for bladder cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50 percent of women diagnosed with bladder cancer are smokers. It is more likely to happen to smokers, so if you notice any of the above symptoms and smoke, tell your doctor as soon as possible.
Another major risk factor is previous bladder cancer. Bladder cancer has a recurrence rate of 50-80%, making it the highest form of cancer. For this reason, it is important to continue to see your doctor and pay attention to any symptoms that you may have if you have had bladder cancer. If in doubt, check it out.
Age is another important factor. Diagnosis of women