Bladder cancer is widely known as a disease occurring in elderly men in the age group of 75 to 84. If a woman is affected by this disease, then this could be quite an alienating experience for her. She might be surrounded by all the men but not a single female in the room. She might even find difficulty in relating to another woman going through the same journey. This is what many of the women suffering from this disease say. But slowly, awareness is spreading about this disease. This disease is no longer considered an old man’s disease.
What is bladder cancer?
The bladder is a bag-like muscular organ that stores urine before it is released out of the body. Its muscle wall is expandable and can contract or relax to change its size. By contracting and relaxing, urine is released from the body.
Any abnormal growth of cells present in the bladder can lead to bladder cancer. Cancer cells usually begin to grow in the inner layer of the bladder, the urinary or transitional epithelium. However, the tumour can grow out of the bladder and spread to the surrounding area. It can not only spread to the lymph nodes, but also other organs such as the lungs and liver. This is known as metastasis.
When bladder cancer can occur in the inner linings (non-muscle invasive), in the muscle (muscle-invasive), in local areas (locally advanced), or could spread to other organs (metastatic).
Bladder cancer in women
Although the rate of occurrence in women is quite low (only 4 to 5 times less common in females compared to males), it is often diagnosed in quite advanced stages in them and is more aggressive compared to men. The outcomes also are not very favourable like the male counterpart. There is often a delay in detecting bladder cancer in women. One of the primary symptoms of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. Women confuse this with periods, menopause, or urinary tract infection. Even doctors can misdiagnose the blood in the urine as cystitis, infection, or a symptom of post-menopause. So, bladder cancer can go undetected for quite a long time like a year.
Talking of risk factors, smoking is considered a very high-risk factor for this cancer. So, this is a point worth noting down. Another thing you should be aware of is that this cancer has a very high rate of recurrence. In fact, it has the highest risk of recurrence compared to other cancers.
Signs and symptoms: when to start taking action
The first step to fighting this disease is knowing all the symptoms well. The most common symptom is blood in the urine. You should note that sometimes this might appear dark brown or orange in colour. Most of these bleedings are painless in case of bladder cancer. While other symptoms can be a burning sensation while urination, frequent urination, and a feeling of incomplete emptying of the bladder.
What do you need to do?
As a woman, you should know that bladder cancer can affect both men and women at any age. So, you need to be watchful. If your symptoms don’t disappear even after medications like antibiotics then you should dig deeper and seek consultation. You can first start with your gynaecologist before going to a urologist. But this might delay your cancer diagnosis.
Seeking a urologist would be helpful because they are the ones dealing with the urinary tracts. The main reason why women are diagnosed in advanced stages is that they fail to reach the urologist in time. One good thing about this cancer is that if it is caught in the early stages, then it is quite manageable and treatable. Treatment plans or methods opted for a female might be different from a male, but generally not. But, there may be gender-specific complications and side effects.
Feeling of alienation
Due to the rare occurrence of this cancer in women, they often feel left out. It is hard for them to find or relate to or talk to other women like them. Even during the treatment, the visits to the doctors can make them feel alienated. Like the urologist’s office may be filled up with the male anatomy charts and models. So, a woman entering the office might feel like stepping into the wrong department. Women do also need urologists since they do also have urinary tracts. But the notion that this disease is a men’s disease makes the journey harder for them. This disease is often found in advanced stages and has a lesser survival rate for females.
So, there is a need for awareness. More and more stories about female cases of bladder cancer need to be made available for the patients. This can help women to know that they are not alone. There is no need to feel like this. They also require you to act fast after seeing the symptoms. As said earlier, in most cases women ignore the symptoms and fail to visit a urologist in time or get misdiagnosed. Social media can be a great platform to publish and inform all people about this. Early detection can be the key to survival and avoiding recurrences.
Although women are at lower risk of developing bladder cancer, they are more adversely affected by it. Often detecting cancer at the advanced stages and not getting the favourable outcomes from the treatment. So, there is a need to spread more awareness to encourage early detection and timely treatment. More and more women should stand up and share their journey and wisdom gained with other women who might feel they are the only ones fighting this disease.