A new study recently discussed at the American Urological Association annual meeting highlights a potentially frightening finding about bladder cancer that all women need to be aware of. As far as this disease’s symptomology goes, noticing blood in the urine is frequently a first indicator of the disease for both men and women. But for women specifically, the new research has indicated that women with blood in their urine were only half as likely as men to be referred beyond their primary care provider to a urologist for further investigation.
The findings are concerning mainly because women with bladder cancer are historically known to be diagnosed at a later stage and as a result, die more often from the disease than men do. So why is there a gap between bladder cancer evaluation for men and women? According to the researchers, who conducted a medical chart review of nearly 10,000 patients, the diagnostic result of blood in the urine for women is often assumed by the primary care provider to simply be a urinary tract infection (UTI).
While it is true that UTIs are more frequently suffered by women, the research found that some of the diagnostic gap may also be related to primary care providers’ understanding that women are statistically less likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer than men. But the general dismissal of symptoms as something “not serious” is dangerous and one that unnecessarily prevents or delays doctors from catching bladder cancer earlier in women. Doing so not only increases health care treatment costs, more importantly, it increases a woman’s chance of dying from the disease.
So what should you do if you or someone you know has blood in her urine? Be your own health care advocate and talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing. While proponents of this recent research are hopeful in helping primary care physicians better assess bladder cancer risk in women who present with such symptoms, you’ll still need to be the one to fight for your health. If you believe a UTI diagnosis is incorrect or just “feel” that something more should be done, speak up. Ask your doctor for a referral to a urologist for further evaluation. If you’re wrong, you’ll have peace of mind. But if you’re right, it could save your life.