Let's take blood in the urine seriously

I love beets, but they have caused me some alarm over the past few years. When I eat them, I’m all in. I buy three or four, roast them and eat them for lunch and dinner, with goat cheese, in salads, just in their unadorned glory.

After a day or so of eating my body weight in beets, I am likely to find that my urine is reddish or pink. This is where the alarm comes in. My first symptom of bladder cancer was reddish urine. It was a symptom I dismissed because I felt just fine.

Truth is, many women do dismiss blood in their urine. To be blunt, we are used to seeing blood in the toilet and if it’s not our period, it’s a UTI.

Except when it’s not. When it’s not, you need a urologist to rule out cancer. With bladder cancer—as with other cancers—finding it early is everything.

The thing that scares me is that so many people, doctors included, have no awareness of the symptoms of bladder cancer. Even without other symptoms of a UTI, docs frequently determine that blood in the urine is sign of infection.

So, it was with disappointment that I read a blog in “Advocate Health News” about “beeturia.” Advocate is a hospital system and I get their weekly newsletters, which this week featured a discussion of the phenomenon of pinkish urine caused by beet pigment.

According to this piece, 10 to 14 percent of people have beeturia. While that’s interesting to me, especially because it’s more common in folks with low iron, I was irritated by the focus on such a benign condition.

The headline—Peeing Pink—draws attention to beeturia and makes only glancing mention of the seriousness of finding blood in the urine.

Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the United States. More than 17,000 people will die this year because of it. Women are diagnosed with more advanced stages of the disease and are more likely to die because of it. Diagnosis is significantly delayed in women because blood in the urine is misdiagnosed as infection.

new-piktochart_23234805-3So, it’s frustrating to me to see a health newsletter devote so many column inches to a benign phenomenon and almost none to the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer.

My intent is not to frighten anyone, but rather to motivate. If you’re peeing pink, then the recent beet salad you ate might be to blame, but I wouldn’t risk my life on that bet.

Take it from me. I (and my doctor) dismissed the blood in my urine for six months before an accurate diagnosis was made. I was on antibiotics two times (once prescribed over the phone) even though the blood in my urine was painless. I’m lucky to be in remission and healthy.

The Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network is the best place to go for more information about bladder cancer. You can find them here.

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