Is it a UTI or is it bladder cancer? How women can tell

Is it a UTI or is it bladder cancer? How women can tell
This is my new bike jersey, created for BCAN by Borah Teamwear. Made in the USA.

Sometimes I have flashbacks to August 2012, when I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I usually have these when I’m going to the bathroom and I remember what it was like to see the blood. At first it didn’t get my attention. Women get used to seeing blood, and it just doesn’t set off alarm bells. But this wasn’t the same.

I treated it like I was having a period, but I started to realize it wasn’t my period. That weekend my family and I traveled to the town where my husband works to attend a beginning of the semester party for his department. There was more and more blood. I mentioned it to my husband, but I minimized it because I didn’t want to worry him.

I wasn’t in pain. I didn’t have a fever. At first I thought that was a good thing. And then I started wandering around online. I remember very clearly seeing the words “bladder cancer” for the first time in my life.

That’s what’s it’s like online. Drama. Every symptom can mean cancer. But the more I read, the more I realized that this blood might really mean cancer. Even worse, the amount of blood was increasing, so much that I was embarrassed to use a toilet besides my own.

I remember deciding not to go the ER because I knew instinctively they’d admit me. Instead I waited two more days to go to my family doc. This doc had already treated me for blood in my urine twice in 2012 with antibiotics, assuming it was an infection. Once the doc prescribed antibiotics over the phone. But when I gave a urine sample this time, I was immediately sent to the ER.

From that point, the real drama began. My symptoms did signal cancer, and I was a walking statistic. Like many, many women in the United States, I was treated for a UTI twice and not referred to a urologist despite the fact that there was still blood in my urine.

Though men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer, women are diagnosed at higher stages and are more likely to die from bladder cancer than men, even when they’re diagnosed at the same stage as a man. I was lucky, if you want to think about it that way, to eventually be diagnosed with Stage 1, Low Grade bladder cancer.

I can’t help but think that if I’d been sent to a urologist in the Spring, my cancer would have been found at a lower stage and I wouldn’t have had to go through BCG treatment and all of the scans and tests that go along with the higher stage diagnosis.

I want women to know the warning signs of bladder cancer and I want them to make their GPs aware of the importance of keeping bladder cancer on the radar. As Gary Steinberg told me in an interview earlier this week, “If you don’t look for it or ask for it, you won’t find it.”

Symptoms of UTIs and symptoms of bladder cancer overlap. If you’re treated for a UTI, once you finish antibiotics, Dr. Steinberg recommends getting another urinalysis to rule out microscopic blood in the urine. If blood is still there, see a urologist. Symptoms such as these can indicate a problem:

  • microscopic blood in the urine
  • visible blood in the urine
  • changes in urinating (frequency, persistent urge)
  • burning and pain when urinating

If you have visible blood in your urine and no other symptoms of a UTI, get to a urologist. The sooner the better.

The Chicago Walk for Bladder Cancer starts at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 3rd at the Harold Washington Playlot Park. You can still register online through May 1, or you can register at 9 a.m. onsite on Sunday. You’ll know you’ve found the right place because you’ll see lots of folks in orange t-shirts. We’re walking to for the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, which raises money for research, provides a fabulous website with information about bladder cancer and, among other things, a Clinical Trial Dashboard.

The interview with Dr. Gary Steinberg is here.

The Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network webpage is here.

The Chicago Walk for Bladder Cancer information is here.

The Cancer is Not a Gift team page, where you can donate to BCAN is here.

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