Unless you’re over the age of 45, you probably don’t give your bladder much thought. As people age, however, the bladder ages, too. The bladder becomes less elastic as the years go by, which makes the bladder walls tougher and less expandable. Little by little, a reduction occurs in the amount of urine a bladder can hold. The pelvic floor also weakens, allowing urine to leak.
Along with decreased urine retention and urine leakage, the risk for other bladder problems also increases with age. Although bladder infections, lower urinary tract infections, and bladder cancer can occur at any age, the chances are higher as a person gets older. Of all these bladder issues, bladder cancer is the most worrisome.
Bladder cancer begins when cells in the bladder begin to grow out of control and may develop into a tumor. Cancer cells from bladder cancer may spread to other parts of the body. Most bladder cancers start in the innermost layer of the bladder, eventually growing outwards.
According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of adults when they receive a bladder cancer diagnosis is 73. About 90 percent of all bladder cancers develop in people over 55. Men are more likely to develop bladder cancer, with 1 out of 27 men versus 1 out of 89 women. Bladder cancer can be lethal — in 2021, about 17,200 deaths resulted from bladder cancer.
Despite a higher risk in older individuals, all adults should be on the lookout for the silent signs of bladder cancer. Here are seven indicators of bladder cancer that are easy to miss:
7. Blood in Urine
The most common sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. Unfortunately, blood in the urine also occurs in many other urinary tract conditions other than bladder cancer, masking the true source of the symptom. And in the case of bladder cancer, the appearance of blood in the urine can take on many forms. The blood might be so scant that it’s difficult to detect, or there could be so much that the urine looks bright red. Sometimes, the blood can color the urine dark brown or appear in small clumps. Regardless of how blood presents itself in the urine, a visit to a physician is recommended.
6. Pain When Urinating
Like blood in the urine, pain or a burning sensation while urinating might indicate urinary tract problems other than bladder cancer. However, if pain or burning happens along with other symptoms on the list, getting checked by a health professional can find the root cause.
The fatigue that appears with bladder cancer is much more severe than common everyday tiredness. This type of fatigue interferes with all aspects of someone’s life, disrupting daily activities and impacting work. Unlike common fatigue, the lack of energy that comes from bladder cancer doesn’t diminish with rest and relaxation. According to the American Cancer Society, this type of tiredness is called “cancer-related fatigue”, and, if it appears with other signs of bladder cancer, requires a visit to a physician for a checkup.
4. Frequently Feeling the Need to Urinate
As people grow older, they may find themselves needing to use the restroom more frequently. Because the bladder can’t hold as much urine as it did in its younger years, older adults may need to empty their bladder often. In the case of bladder cancer, the sensation to urinate can become overwhelming, yet when trying to urinate very little comes out. Aside from bladder cancer, needing to urinate more frequently with age is natural, but it’s best to seek professional advice.
3. Persistent Urinary Tract Infections
Overall, most urinary tract infections aren’t signs of bladder cancer. However, it’s easy to mistake signs of bladder cancer for a UTI. A UTI that remains despite antibiotic treatments and other interventions might be bladder cancer instead. More women die of bladder cancer than of cervical cancer, most likely because they mistake their bladder cancer symptoms for an UTI. So, when faced with a UTI that doesn’t heal, it may be wise to get checked for bladder cancer instead.
2. Pelvic or Lower Back Pain
As bladder cancer progresses, it may cause pelvic or lower back pain. The severity of the pain can range from slight discomfort to constant unbearable pain. Because pelvic or lower back pain might be a sign of advanced bladder cancer, it’s vital to seek a physician’s advice, especially if there are other symptoms present.
1. Unintended Weight Loss
Unintended weight loss can indicate advanced stages of bladder cancer, especially if it occurs with another symptom — extreme fatigue. The metabolic changes that cancer triggers can result in a loss of appetite and consumption of the body’s energy reserves, resulting in weight loss.
Treatment of Bladder Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, the people most at risk for bladder cancer are over the age of 55 and:
- Have had a previous case of bladder cancer
- Have birth defects or anomalies of the bladder
- Have had past exposure to chemicals at work
As with all cancers, detecting bladder cancer in its early stages can greatly improve treatment outcomes. Spotting the signs of bladder cancer when it’s still small and hasn’t spread is the key to a successful treatment. Because the symptoms of bladder cancer can mimic other health problems, it’s important to get evaluated when the symptoms occur in combination with each other.