Bladder cancer often presents similar markers to urinary tract infections, leading to a significant number of cases being misdiagnosed. Delays in identifying this cancer have led to a higher rate of mortality because the disease has often progressed too far for treatment to be effective by the time it is identified.
The seventh leading cause of cancer deaths, there were approximately 79,000 new cases of bladder cancer diagnosed and 16,870 deaths associated with the disease in the first half of 2017. In almost half of cases, bladder cancer is only identified once it has expanded into nearby lymph nodes and tissues, making treatment more difficult.
In the early stages, bladder cancer often presents similar symptoms to urinary tract infections. In many cases, if the doctor doesn’t consider a patient to be at risk for developing this disease, no further screening is conducted. Thus, if a patient hasn’t had bladder cancer before, does not present with birth defects in the bladder, and isn't exposed to particular chemicals on a regular basis, the doctor might simply diagnose the condition as UTI without further investigation. Even if the patient proves to be in the high-risk category, the rate of further investigation is still relatively low. Only 12.8% of cases presenting micro-hematuria (blood in the urine) are sent for further urological evaluation.
Women are even more at risk of being misdiagnosed. Men who present blood in their urine are 65 percent more likely to be referred for formal urological evaluation, whereas women are more likely to be diagnosed with a UTI and referred to a gynecologist.
Lower Thresholds for Urological Evaluations Could Save Lives
A lower investigative threshold for doctors could lead to a reduction in misdiagnosis rates and a quicker diagnosis of bladder cancer, giving patients more options for treatment and a better chance of surviving.
Doctors should look beyond a UTI diagnosis and investigate the source of the symptoms. Patient involvement should also be encouraged because a patient may be able to provide more information about his or her condition that might have previously seemed irrelevant.
Considering the two-week delay between the diagnosis of bladder cancer in women versus men, further research needs to be conducted to determine why women aren’t required to go for further evaluation as quickly as men.