Bladder Cancer vs. Interstitial Cystitis vs. Chronic UTI
Last updated: April 2023
When your ‘better half’ is also invested in women’s health, it’s great to discuss various health issues with her when she brings up topics that are related to Bladder Cancer. She happened to mention how Bladder Cancer is often misdiagnosed as something else or just missed completely. It’s of the utmost importance for doctors to explore the options. Granted, many doctors are pressed for time as it stands, but using a dartboard methodology to diagnose cancer is unacceptable. For many, doctors are the last line of defense when it comes to health, life, and death. With that said, let’s take a look at these misdiagnosed ailments.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
As you probably know, the urethra carries waste from the bladder outside the body. In some circumstances, the urethra can become infected by any number of bacteria. With this, the urethra can become red, swollen and inflamed. Common symptoms can include:1
- A feeling to urinate often
- Blood in urine
- Abdominal pain/ lower back pain
- Cloudy urine that has an odor
Interstitial Cystitis (IC) is a painful bladder syndrome, where the lining of the bladder is inflamed. This inflammation appears with the presence of bacteria or an infection. Approximately 8 million women in the United States suffer from this condition. Just like a UTI, the symptoms for IC include:1
- Pain in the pelvic areas
- Painful urination
- A need to urinate when the bladder is not full
With Bladder Cancer (BC) affecting about 79,000 adults every year in the United States, it's one of the more common cancers. The symptoms for BC are pretty similar to IC and UTI’s, with symptoms that include:2
- Blood in urine
- Pelvic pain
- Painful urination
When you take a step back and look at the symptoms, you will notice they are very similar. Therein lies the problem for doctors and patients.
Cancer can be misdiagnosed
Here, I am really reaching out to women who may have to deal with the misdiagnoses and suffer the long-term consequences. You have to ask questions and make sure the diagnosis is accurate for the specific illness. The following paragraphs are from an article that exposes how people are misdiagnosed and what you can do.
Dr. David Steinberg writes that cancers are “often misdiagnosed as a bladder infection and treated as such. Patients with irritative voiding symptoms that do not resolve with treatment for UTI require further evaluation.”3 The question is do they get the additional evaluation?
Getting additional evaluation
Doctors may perform a cystoscopy to visually inspect the urethra. Dr. Steinberg says a cystoscopy may “reveal a characteristic red, velvety appearance that resembles an area of inflammation. In some cases, however, [cancer] is not visible on gross inspection.”3 So, after getting an additional evaluation that still may misdiagnose the cancer as a UTI, what can you do?
Requesting different tests
You could request a set of tests, including a urine cytology test or other tests that are available that look for bladder cancer markers. These tests are highly sensitive in detecting cancer. Even with the various tests, Dr. Steinberg recommends a bladder biopsy to correctly establish a diagnosis because urinary cytology “is not especially helpful in early diagnosis of [cancers]. Most of these tumors are not diagnosed until they are at an advanced stage.”3
Advocating for yourself
So, as I close this article, I can only stress the importance of doing your homework before you see your doctor and discuss your symptoms. When one test returns a negative result, you need to advocate for yourself and ask for additional testing to look for something else. If you are feeling pain, you know something is wrong, regardless of what the test says. It’s your body, so you know when you are not feeling well. Thank you.
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