Urgency of Urination

Is the urgent need to urinate a symptom of bladder cancer?

Feeling the urgent need to urinate despite the bladder not being full is a type of irritative bladder symptom.1,2 Some patients diagnosed with bladder cancer have this symptom, or other irritative bladder symptoms such as urinating more frequently than usual or experiencing pain before, during, or after urinating. Between 20% and 30% of patients diagnosed with bladder cancer experience irritative bladder symptoms.

In most patients who are diagnosed with bladder cancer, the bladder cancer cells start to grow in the lining of the bladder, where they can gather together and form tumors. This can cause problems and changes in urination, including the urgent need to urinate even if the bladder is not full. However, many patients diagnosed with bladder cancer do not have this symptom. The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine that is easily visible, which around 80% to 90% of patients experience.

Let your healthcare provider know if you experience the urgent need to urinate even if your bladder is not full. Although it usually not a symptom of bladder cancer, it is important to find out the underlying cause. It is especially important to let your healthcare provider know if you experience this symptom and you have noticed blood in your urine. If the symptom is being caused by bladder cancer, diagnosing it at an early stage tends to make treatment more effective.

What is it and how is it diagnosed?

Urgency of urination is a strong and sudden feeling that you need to urinate right away.2,3 This happens even if your bladder is not full. Urgency of urination is a symptom experienced by both men and women. This symptom can feel uncomfortable and it can be inconvenient if you have to find a toilet very quickly.

Sometimes urgency of urination occurs with other types of irritative bladder symptoms—such as increased frequency of urination or pain before, during, or after urination—but it can also occur alone. Many patients diagnosed with bladder cancer do not experience this symptom, and the symptom is most often caused by something other than bladder cancer.

If you experience the symptom of urgency of urination, your healthcare provider will probably test your urine in the laboratory (called urinalysis) to see if the symptom(s) are being caused by an infection, for example, as well as performing a physical examination. Depending on the results of the test and the exam, your healthcare provider may need to order further testing to understand the cause of your symptoms. This might include a procedure called cystometry, which is used to measure the amount of pressure inside of the bladder.

What else can cause it?

Urinary tract infections are a common cause of the urgent need to urinate even when the bladder is not full.2,3 In men that are middle-aged or older, it can be caused by prostate problems such as an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Other possible causes of the urgent need to urinate include:

  • Swelling or infection in the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body)
  • Swelling in the vagina
  • Urine leaking from the urethra
  • Diabetes that is not well controlled
  • Certain types of medicines
  • Radiation therapy near the bladder
  • Overactive bladder syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol and caffeine use
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Stroke
  • Other types of cancers in the pelvic area
Written by Anna Nicholson | Last review date: September 2017.
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