Women & Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer has long been considered a disease of older men. Though it is more prevalent in men, studies have shown that women are more likely to present more advanced tumors. Women often have a worse prognosis than men at almost every stage of the disease. According to a report published by the National Cancer Institute, the survival rate for women with bladder cancer lags behind that of men at all stages of the disease. African-American women have poor outcomes when diagnosed with bladder cancer. They present with the highest proportion of advanced and aggressive tumors when compared to African-American men and Caucasian men and women. In addition, the number of women diagnosed with bladder cancer has been increasing. You can learn more about about the statistics, treatment and survival differences in our webinar: Women and Bladder Cancer.

It is important for women to understand their risks for bladder cancer and know what to ask their doctors. Awareness is the key: in most cases, bladder cancer is treatable, but prompt diagnosis is critical.

Why the disparity?

In many cases, there are significant delays in diagnosing bladder cancer in women. Many women ignore the most basic symptom—blood in the urine. They may associate it with menstruation or menopause and delay reporting this symptom to their doctors. Even after reporting the problem to their doctors, blood in the urine may be initially misdiagnosed. It may be seen as a symptom of post-menopausal bleeding, simple cystitis or as a urinary tract infection. As a result, a bladder cancer diagnosis can be overlooked for a year or more.

What do women need to know?

• Bladder cancer can affect women at any age.
• Smoking is the greatest risk factor. Smokers get bladder cancer twice as often as non-smokers.
• Bladder cancer symptoms may be identical to those of a bladder infection and the two problems may occur together. If symptoms do not disappear after treatment with antibiotics, insist upon further evaluation to determine whether bladder cancer is present.
• Bladder cancer has the highest recurrence rate of any form of cancer—between 50-80 percent.

What can you do?

The most important thing for you is to know the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer. Be sure to report them to your physician immediately. The most common sign—blood in the urine—can be visible (though it may sometimes appear dark brown or orange) but could also only be detected under a microscopic examination. It is important to visit your doctor for routine examinations. Most bleeding associated with bladder cancer is painless. Close to 30 percent of bladder cancer patients experience burning, frequent urination or a sensation of incomplete emptying when they urinate.

If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Women & Bladder Cancer: Sharing Stories to Advance Research

BCAN was invited to share the experiences of women diagnosed with bladder cancer at the “Bladder Cancer in Women: Identifying Research Needs to Improve Diagnosis and Treatment” program sponsored by Johns Hopkins Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute and the American Urological Association Translational Research Collaboration. Each of these women’s stories are memorable and unique. Sadly, their stories are repeated around the country because women are not the “typical bladder cancer patient.” Read the the transcript of their presentation here.

Advice from women survivors

The good news is that in most cases, if caught early, bladder cancer is a manageable disease. There are tens of thousands of women surviving and thriving, even with bladder cancer today. Read their stories

Melanie and her husband

Melanie’s Story: I Was Shocked to Learn I Had Bladder Cancer

Although I worked in healthcare for 30 years as a genetic counselor, Melanie was shocked to learn that she had bladder cancer. She told BCAN: In 2018, a year before my diagnosis I was having heaviness of the pelvic floor that prompted me to schedule an appointment with my doctor.  She reassured me by a […]

Barbara B., bladder cancer patient

Barbara’s Story: “You Have Cancer” is Something No One Wants to Hear

My first indication that something was wrong was that I began having heavy bleeding, which was very scary.  As a female, I wasn’t even sure where it was coming from.  I called my doctor, and the nurse practitioner told me to come in for a urine test.  I was then told I had a bladder […]

Jo’s Story: Each Day is a Gift

In August of 2004 I had a routine appointment with my pulmonologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) during the 4th quarter of a 20-year “smoker study.”  The day before, when I saw blood in my urine and the local urologist couldn’t see me for five weeks.  I shared my concern with […]