Prostate Cancer Awareness month has recently ended, a time when we urologists often focus on getting the word out in the hopes that men will focus on their prostate health. But as September transitions into October and the importance of the Breast Cancer Awareness message becomes center stage, I don't believe we emphasize enough the importance that women should place on being aware of their urological health. When I say urological health, I don't necessarily mean reproductive health. Although these organs are located in the same vicinity, women are typically very aware of the conditions that affect reproduction. However, they may not be as aware of how to prevent those conditions that have the potential to affect their overall urologic health. Whether this is the "right month" for that message or not, I hope this information will provide insight to any woman who is looking for information on ways to ensure her urological health stays intact for many years to come.
About Women and Bladder Cancer
First and foremost, the symptoms associated with bladder cancer:
Blood in the urine;
Urgency/frequency of urination;
Pain over the bladder area and;
Burning with urination
are often found in other conditions including urinary tract infections, pelvic prolapse and urinary stones. For this reason, it is important for women experiencing any of these symptoms to consult with and be examined by a qualified and highly trained urologist.
Bladder cancer is more likely to affect men than women. Due to this fact, it is sometimes overlooked in female examinations and many a female bladder cancer patient has reported being diagnosed with the disease while being evaluated for something else entirely. This is a good thing for cancers that are in their early stages, but being aware of the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer before it progresses to its later stages is very important.
While the overall occurrence of bladder cancer in females is relatively low, it tends to be diagnosed in Caucasians more often than those of African American or Hispanic descent. The biggest risk factor for contracting bladder cancer, no matter one's sex or race, is smoking. Additionally, people who experience chronic bladder irritation (from infections, stones, etc.) are more likely to develop squamous carcinoma, a specific type of bladder cancer. Family history also plays a part, with people who have family members with the disease at an increased risk for developing it themselves.
About Women and Kidney Cancer
In its early stages, kidney cancer often causes no symptoms at all and is frequently detected as the result of screening for an unrelated problem. In its later stages, symptoms can manifest themselves in a variety of ways including:
• Blood in the urine;
• A fullness or a palpable mass near the sides of the abdomen;
• Back pain below the rib cage;
• Unexplained weight loss;
• Unexplained fatigue, generally not feeling "well;"
• Sporadic instances of fever not associated with other illness;
• Low blood counts/symptoms of anemia;
• Elevated blood calcium levels and;
While the incidence of kidney cancer is often higher among men than women, diagnoses of the disease is on the rise overall in Americans. Research suggests that this may be in part because obesity is a significant risk factor for developing kidney cancer and it is increasing at alarming rates in the United States. In addition, smoking also increases one’s risk of developing kidney cancer, as does frequent exposure to harmful chemicals, usually found in the workplace.
All forms of cancer are most successfully treated in their earliest stages. Because early-stage kidney cancer does not cause symptoms, it is important to maintain a proactive approach to health with regular check-ups or "physicals" even when you're well and especially when you're not.
Quit Smoking: People often associate smoking only with damage to the lungs and airway. The truth is that the toxic effects of tobacco usage can be seen in virtually every major organ in our bodies, including the bladder and kidneys. Since smoking is the primary risk factor for developing both of these cancers, quitting now can have many positive and lasting results including the reduction of overall cancer risk. The National Cancer Institute provides a wealth of information and helpful tools to people who are looking to quit smoking. You can visit the website here: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/tobacco/smoking
Lose Weight/Maintain a Healthy Diet: Sometimes the simplest measures really can have the greatest and most lasting impact. When it comes to kidney and bladder cancers, paying attention to what you eat and your bodyweight can greatly reduce your risk for developing these types of diseases. If you don’t already know what your Body Mass Index is, take steps to find out. If it is too high for you, work towards bringing your weight down to a level that is within normal range for your body. When making food choices, always opt for a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain antioxidants, which have been studied in connection with a reduced risk for developing certain types of cancer.