May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month. Bladder cancer is the fifth most diagnosed cancer in the United States and according to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, about 77,000 new cases of bladder cancer will be found in 2016. And while bladder cancer has long been linked to older men, nearly 25 percent of the new cases to be diagnosed this year will be in women. As stated by the American Cancer Society, the rates of new cancers and cancer deaths have been dropping slightly in women. However, women are still more likely to be diagnosed with more late stages of bladder cancer and have a worse prognosis than men at almost all stage of the disease. And despite Caucasians being twice as likely as African-Americans to be told they have bladder cancer; more aggressive tumors and late stages of the disease will be found in African-American women - they also have poorer outcomes.
One of the most common signs of bladder cancer in women is blood in the urine. Unfortunately, many women associate this symptom with a period or sign of menopause and often do not tell their doctor. And while bleeding is most linked to bladder cancer, some women may feel back pain or have burning, frequent or urgent urination. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible as it could also be the sign of a urinary tract infection.
While we don't know all of the causes of bladder cancer, we do know:
- Bladder cancer can affect women at any age.
- Cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking raises your risk of bladder cancer.
- Long-term exposure to chemicals used to make plastics, paints, textiles, leather and rubber may also cause bladder cancer.
- Long-lasting bladder problems such as bladder stones and infections may raise the risk of bladder cancer.
- Of any form of cancer, bladder cancer has the highest chance of returning—between 50-80 percent.
Remember, bladder cancer is often treatable if caught early, but prompt diagnosis is critical. For more facts about bladder cancer or other urologic health issues, visit UrologyHealth.org or read the Urology Care Foundation's Bladder Cancer Patient Guide.
Angela B. Smith, MD, MS, is assistant professor of Urology at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and member of the AUA