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Do frequent urinary tract infections lead to bladder cancer?

Thursday, 27 April 2023 | 11:21 AM EST

  • microgenhealth


Reports suggested that nearly 80% of UTIs occur in women where 40-50% of females experience a minimum of one UTI symptom and half of those people will get recurrent UTIs within a year. 

The good news is UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. However, if this infection is recurrent, make sure to get it tested. It could turn out to be a sign of a serious condition like bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer type in the US, where nearly 15,000 bladder cancer-related deaths occur every year. 

This article explains whether urinary tract infection (UTI) proves to be the risk factor for the development of bladder cancer and what symptoms you should look for. So, keep reading!

What are the risk factors and symptoms of UTI?

Although anyone can develop a UTI, it’s more common in women due to the following risk factors:

  1. Use of birth control types like the diaphragm and spermicidal agents
  2. Presence of shorter urethra
  3. A shorter distance from the anus to the urethral opening
  4. Low estrogen level during menopause
  5. Sexual activity 
  6. Bladder or kidney stone formation
  7. Immune suppression
  8. Post-menopausal changes in the vaginal lining 

The symptoms of UTI include cloudy dark urine with a strong odor, lower tummy pain, feeling hot or shivery, hematuria, pain, difficulty, or irritation while urinating, and frequent need to urinate.

Is recurrent UTI really risky?

Yes. Hematuria (blood in the urine), pain, difficulty, or irritation while urinating, and frequent need to urinate are the common red flag symptoms of bladder cancer and UTI experienced by both men and women. If you get these symptoms recurrently despite undergoing antibiotic therapy, make sure to visit the doctor and proceed with further diagnosis.

Why do women experience a delay in diagnosis or misdiagnosis?

Although bladder cancer is common among men, women also get it. However, very few doctors consider this point.

During the American Urological Association 2015 Annual Meeting press conference, Kyle Richards, MD, the lead researcher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reported that UTI, which doesn’t improve with regular treatment and time, might act as a risk factor for bladder cancer. He also added, “A lot of primary care doctors who are [initially] seeing these patients [with persistent UTI symptoms] are less aware that bladder cancer is even a possibility in women.”

Compared to men, it takes a longer time to detect in women who had a UTI. The reason for this delay among women is they tend to see a urologist later only after consulting their primary care doctors and gynecologists. By the time women reach out to urologists, they will remain in the later stages if they get diagnosed with bladder cancer. However, men visit urologists much earlier.

Initially, women ignore when they experience hematuria. However, it’s highly recommended to monitor the frequency and duration of the symptoms. Finding blood in the urine is abnormal. In case it does not go away despite having a course of antibiotics, talk to your doctor. Ask them if you can proceed with diagnostic tests for bladder examination.

Is UTI the only risk factor for developing bladder cancer?

No. Additionally, smoking is also a major risk factor. Nearly 50% of patients with bladder cancer have a history of smoking. So, make sure to share this information with your doctor if you are smoking.

Is there any research evidence that supports the link between UTI and bladder cancer?

Yes. A 2019 research study reported that UTI might be an early sign of genitourinary cancer, especially urinary bladder, kidney, and prostate. At the same time, recurrent antibiotic therapy for more than 7 days was also associated with the occurrence of bladder cancer among men. 

Another 2014 study revealed that the recurrence of UTI among postmenopausal women was significantly associated with a higher risk of bladder cancer.

If it’s not bladder cancer, what else can it be that mimics UTI symptoms?

In addition to bladder cancer, there are several conditions like kidney stones, vaginitis, overactive bladder, and sexually transmitted diseases that mimic UTI symptoms. Hence, it’s important to thoroughly investigate UTI-like symptoms. So, visit your doctor and enquire about its diagnosis.

Final Thoughts

Remember, UTI is a prevalent condition, but blood in the urine is not good. The earlier the diagnosis, the more manageable it is. So, keep an eye on your symptoms and proceed with diagnosis at the earliest.

Unfortunately, the signs of UTI can mimic bladder cancer symptoms. It’s a major problem in women since major symptoms like hematuria could be easily confused with menstrual or peri-menopausal bleeding. Hence, you experience a delay in diagnosis. 

Early detection and intervention could significantly increase the possibilities for successful treatment. Patients diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage have a five-year survival rate of 95.8%.

Visit Microgen Health which follows an advanced diagnostic qPCR approach toward the detection of UTI-causative organisms. The average turnaround time, unlike traditional culture-based tests, is 24 hours. Furthermore, Microgen Health offers a home sample collection facility. To experience a more hassle-free experience, contact us as we’re just a call away!

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